Why is Slack popular?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

I have been deeply confused about the rise of Slack, since it does not offer any new features that I am aware of. There have been a million chat applications over the years, all offering roughly the same mix of features that Slack offers. How Slack managed to hit such a sweet spot, in such a crowded market, is deeply puzzling to me.

I wish I could say that this article revealed some great truth to me, but it actually deepened my confusion. Especially incredible is the sentence “Slack has already shifted the idea of physical office space into an idealized digital version of itself”. Didn’t that happen over the course of a few decades? The idea of telecommuting first arose in the 1980s.

I’m going to guess that Slack is a fad, with a white-hot following right now, but it will be forgotten.

On Twitter, the deactivated Slack account became a way to demonstrate fear of being laid off. “Is my Slack down or am I fired?” is a good joke in a Freudian sense because it reveals a deeper truth about how tenuous jobs have become. Before, a worker might arrive to the office to find her keycard no longer works, or their desk contents boxed and ready, a security guard waiting to escort them back to the parking lot. It’s a messy image, bad for morale and, now, easily avoided by quietly deleting a worker’s access to their work and colleagues. As the open office, with its cacophonous lack of privacy and false promise of improved collaboration, is replaced by a virtual one running on labor and benefits platforms like Slack and Zenefits (lol), the American employee is increasingly no longer an employee at all, but someone granted the privilege to work by a network administrator, an opportunity just as easily revoked.

…The business communication application Slack appears to be another email-killer, yet its combination of archived conversation and files, syncing among multiple devices, and search that actually works carries the makings of a more transformative office technology, one that’s changing both the way workers collaborate and how they are eventually laid off. Like email, Slack rewards active employees who assert their presence through how frequently they post. It provides a simple platform for group communication, something email claims to do when it’s only really creating multi-threaded headaches. The company’s self-professed goal is to make work easier as a result of improving the efficiency of a team, a task accomplished by turning departments into hashtagged channels and maintaining a transparent record of everything that happens within them.

For many workers—in narrow but highly indicative industries—Slack has already shifted the idea of physical office space into an idealized digital version of itself. And if venture capital has anything to say about it, the rest of the world isn’t far behind. Rather than actual rooms, employees congregate in these channels; they gossip over direct messages and build office-specific languages using emoji. Slack played its role in the Gawker layoffs because it was both the organization’s primary mode of communication and office space; terminations have transitioned from clusters of desks to digital communities, malleable teams with a built-in institutional memory that’s unbeholden to physical space.