Slack vs Email

I seem to remember some of Slack’s early marketing was a bit anti-email. Slack is a new way of communicating on a team that stops the need for email. To some degree, I think (and hope) they are right.

I’m betting most of you have heard of Slack, but if not, it’s like a private chat app for businesses and other less formal groups. For example, I have a Slack for CodePen, the business I run. All CodePen employees are in the Slack, and we talk in there every day.

What’s so interesting about Slack is that it’s partially async. It’s real time chat, but I find maybe 50% of communication on Slack is actually real time chat. It’s often a chat that is broken up with significant time delays. Someone leaves a message and someone else answers it an hour later.

I might post a message like this in Slack:

✨Reminder! We have a new thing launching on Monday. 

The draft of the email announcing it is here: 
The Merge Request in GitLab is here: 

Person X, you’re responsible for Y. I’ll be doing Z. Go team 🎉

That’s kind of like an email. I don’t really need a response immediately, it’s just a broadcasting of information. That could have been an email, but I’m glad it’s not. I’m grateful Slack cuts down on that kind of email. Mostly because I know how differently everyone feels about email and how differently everyone handles email. I essentially don’t trust that the email will reach everyone in time, that they will for sure read it, and do what needs to be done. I trust my Slack message more in this circumstance.

Slack is often not that formal. We’re often just chit-chatting about interesting things we’ve seen on the internet, helping each other troubleshoot some code, or even sharing baby pictures in a dedicated channel. Those things aren’t replacing email, for the most part.

This real-time text-based communication is vital for teams. I’ve literally never worked in a tech job, remote or not, without having something like it. The first jobs I had we did it all over AOL instant messages. That evolved and changed into different apps over time, and Slack is just the most recent in that evolution. There has got to be a way to talk your team that is less intense than phone or video, but more synchronous than email. I think we’ll always need that. If we didn’t have Slack now, we’d be using Discord or HipChat or some other app making its way in this space.

Slack is more than just chat, to be fair. They allow for audio, video, and even screensharing as well. What you post in chat can take many forms too, from photos and video to URLs with expanded previews, to snippets of code and long form posts. Add-ons can even completely customize what a message can be. It’s pretty fancy. 

Yet, I wouldn’t call it an email killer. I can’t find any current Slack marketing that claims that it is. In the same way we don’t generally make our address or phone number public, we don’t share a Slack with most of the world.

Personally, even when I do share a Slack with someone I want to get a message to, it’s not 100% that I’ll chose to message them over Slack. Even though there is some level of I’ll get to this as soon as I can async vibe that happens within teams on Slack, sending a private message still feels like it has some urgency to it, which I don’t always want to convey. Almost like you’re avoiding sending an email because you want an answer quicker.

Here’s another little story just to underscore the idea that everyone is different when it comes to communication preferences. My co-founder Tim, it seems to me, does email just fine. But he doesn’t like it. And in fact, he’ll take steps to make sure that any new upcoming situation is mostly handled outside of email.

For example, if we’re about to start working with a new contractor, by the second or third email back and forth with them, they are being invited as a “single channel guest” to our Slack team. Even people like lawyers and contractors who you might not assume are into the idea of installing a new app to talk to one client. I’m almost always surprised how well that works out and that the people are into it.

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