I’ve occasionally inquired about Slack, a popular messaging system, to see what others felt its advantages were. Having used it fairly extensively at this point, I feel able to say that Slack has benefits–so long as it’s used in conjunction with other tools that address its shortcomings.
The major benefit to Slack over other communication systems (emails, etc.) is, as one of my colleagues at the Game Center has pointed out, its integration with other software. If you use Git for version control, GitHub can post directly to Slack when you commit code. Trello, commonly used as a production management tool (think of it like a feature-laden to-do list), will report to a Slack channel when tasks are created and completed.
Automating information flow like this has a lot of benefits. Most notably, it’s much easier to keep abreast of what’s happening in a group. You know what everyone’s working on, because messages appear and notifications are delivered as they make progress. Since the notices are sent automatically you get that information even when they’re busy and might forget to update the team themselves.
Unfortunately, while Slack is good as presenting information it’s extremely poor at retaining it. Messages scroll away quickly, and there’s no good method for sorting through them. It’s therefore vital to use external software to track bugs, maintain to-do lists, and the like; Slack doesn’t do persistent information.
Slack isn’t perfect. It is, however, free for smaller users, and its integration with useful tools does a lot for its appeal. Teams that need a centralized source of news–and that don’t mind storing anything that needs to stick around elsewhere–will find Slack a good fit.