Slack has a killer reputation as a team communication tool, but since it’s free to use, my friends and I decided to give it a shot as a Google Hangouts replacement. We chat across OS X, Windows, Android, and iOS depending on location, so Slack’s multi-platform support was a huge selling point. There were also a few more advantages to Slack.
One of the big draws was that Slack has actual apps for every platform. Hangouts is clean, but it has to run in the browser on desktops, so you’ve got to pin a tab in Safari or use FluidApp to generate a dedicated window. Slack was also one of the first apps to embrace the iPad Pro’s screen size with a wider layout, which gave it big points for me as an early iPad Pro adopter.
If you haven’t used Slack before, here’s the quick primer. You start off by establishing a team (ex. teamname.slack.com) and then inviting members to join that team. Slack has a very generous free tier for small teams, but the paid tiers allow for fancier integrations with services. You can run customer support and entire teams off of Slack, and the service has lots of little features (notification snooze and @mention notifications) that help it scale from teams of 20–200 people. We didn’t need to scale up because they only things we really send around are a few Dropbox links and images of our stupid faces. The basic tier was enough.
Another of Slack’s organizational features is the idea of Channels, which are basically chatrooms marked by hashtags. This was overkill for a group of three people, but we did try using #general and #2016trip channels. The idea was that we’d only talk about our vacation in the #2016trip channel, and everything else would go into #general. We weren’t quite as efficient as Megan Quinn in our after-hours use of Slack, but given the volume of messages my friends output, channels seemed like a great tool to try.
I really liked how easy it was to clean up information within a channel. Not only can you star specific messages, but you can also delete them entirely if you’re the moderator of the channel. This helps to keep only pertinent information in the channel so that the chats are easier to return to and read at a later date.
There’s a lot more that you can use Slack for, but in our 1.5 months of testing, we never felt we needed to go further. If anything, what stopped our trial run of Slack was the lack of a few basic features — specifically image support.
Images in Slack are organized in a Recent Files section, but you don’t see any thumbnails when viewing images. My friends and I don’t bother renaming pictures as we share them, so everything looks identical. Finding an old picture required us to tap through different filenames. Slack for desktop was updated with thumbnails in the past month, but it’s still an issue on iOS.
No Picture Resizing
The killer was that Slack is also more optimized for general file sharing. Because it’s equipped to handle ZIP files, GIFs, videos, and links, it doesn’t have a nuanced approach to photo handling. There is currently no option to auto-resize a picture as you share it in Slack, so my 24 Megapixel JPEGs are all sent at full size (5 MB per shot). For my friend with only 1 GB of data on his monthly plan, these pictures are a real data hog.
To Slack’s credit, I mentioned the issue on Twitter and they responded to me within a day: they will address image resizing on mobile, but they won’t be able to get to it for a while.
So, as of today, my friends and I have returned to Google Hangouts. I’ll miss having a native app, but this service just works better for our needs right now. This is by no means a condemnation of Slack — in fact, this little experiment showed me how the product is built to scale for small and large teams. It’s just that the experiment didn’t quite work for our group.