Slack and I have a long and torrid history. At 9seeds we were very early adopters. I thought we were joking when we discussed switching from HipChat to Slack, but the next day I logged into HipChat and was wondering where everybody was. Slack from then on would be the de-facto standard, and for a while, slack would be ruining my life.

Why Slack Sucked Initially

I liked HipChat because I could use my native instant messaging app, Pidgin (similar to Adium), which could handle AIM, IRC, ICQ, plus any XMPP protocol (Google Talk, FB Messenger, HipChat), etc. I had to run Slack in a browser, especially at the beginning because they didn’t have a native Linux client. Chrome made it easier by letting me run it as an app in a dedicated window, but the away detection was terrible. Often I’d get simultaneous notifications on my desktop and my phone because slack thought I was inactive. All it took was to bring the slack window into the foreground and it would reset it’s inactivity timer. I actually opened up a support ticket with them with a JavaScript example of better away detection, but they already had a “native” (electron) client in the works for Linux.

Then Slack Got Worse

Technically, it got better first. Away detection was fixed. We all rejoiced! Everybody seemed to be moving wholesale away from IRC or HipChat or whatever to Slack. No one seemed to notice the ownership of their message history now belonged to someone else. Slack has to make money somehow, so they politely hold any messages prior to 10,000 hostage – waiting for you to unlock them with a paid account:

The way the 10,000 is counted is in the order that they’re logged at Slack by timestamp, no matter if it was in a channel or direct message. So if a channel is particularly chatty, any messages you had directly with John Doe may no longer be visible.

And what about the fact that all conversations are being funneled through and stored at Slack? I joke that the NSA probably has Slack on their payroll or already had an in through the PRISM program. It’s not really a joke though, it’s a legitimate concern. Do you trust Slack to encrypt and store all of those messages safely? It would be way easier for the NSA to do one intercept at Slack rather than Google, Facebook, AOL, ICQ, et. al.

With other messaging services, I at least felt comfortable that they’re likely just relaying them (not storing) and if I wanted an extra level of security, I could go “Off The Record.” Adding an extra layer of end-to-end encryption, you still have some control over your privacy.

And Even Worse

Ultimately the worst part about Slack was how everyone was using it. Constant mobile notifications, messages at odd-hours. It was a non-stop barrage of information that became harder to discern if it was something that warranted attention now, if it could wait until tomorrow, or if it was just for fun. I can honestly say that I quit a job over annoying slack messages. I hope this can serve as an example to anyone thinking about Slacking all the things.

Finally Better

I started a new job at Web Dev Studios this year. They use Slack, and they use it well. WDS has “bankers hours” which amounts to everybody being online from 9-5PM Eastern time. After 5PM Eastern, you know what Slack is like? A ghost town. Hallelujah! After 5 everyone switches over to GroupMe to post pictures of their beers and/or tacos. Also, GroupMe conversation is totally optional. Want to participate at all hours of the evening? Go ahead! I keep mine on mute and check in occasionally so I can live my life without interruption.

2 thoughts on “Slack the right way

  1. Another way that WDS is using Slack correctly is with the number of channels. There are channels for everything. And, since you can set up notifications to go to your phone for specific channels, you can avoid the nonsense that goes on in the watercooler-style rooms, but you COULD turn on notifications to your team room after hours knowing that if something goes on in there after 5pm, it’s probably important.

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