🧱 Slack and the Intercompany Communication Layer →
Ben Thompson published this piece a few weeks back on the state of Slack up against its competitive market for chat and collaboration, namely Microsoft’s Teams product. It covers the history well, dating back to Microsoft’s 2016 announcement of Teams, through to their traction, scale, and eventually overtaking of Slack in daily users on their platform.
We’re a Slack shop like many, but I’ve used Teams to join in on calls and it’s gotten darn good from what I can tell. The devil is, of course, in the details. I use Slack for hours a day and it’s become so second-nature it really is a conduit to most of what’s happening throughout the day. So I can’t speak to Teams’s “power tool” abilities that I find so useful in Slack.
But as Ben points out in the article, one of the best and most unique capabilities that Slack’s invested in and Microsoft hasn’t is their Shared Channels functionality, which essentially let you create a mutual cross-organization channel for between two separate Slack accounts. With this, you can create dedicated channels for live interaction and collaboration with customers, partners, or contractors seamlessly (if they’re on Slack). We use it in a few places and it’s hard to imagine how we’d have as smooth of communication with the other companies without channel sharing. It’s so seamless — they get to stay in their Slack, and we get to stay in ours.
On Slack going horizontal:
Shared Channels are a far more compelling feature than Slack’s attempt at a platform, particularly when it comes to accentuating the ways in which Slack is better than Teams. First, chat is the point, not integrating with toolchains that are probably different on a company-by-company basis, which lets Slack’s strengths as a chat client come to the forefront. Second, because Slack is not deeply integrated with a bunch of other applications, it is actually easier for it to horizontally connect different companies. Third, being first actually matters.
To combat Microsoft’s bundling power, wherein they can leverage their existing massive enterprise customer base into Teams because it’s “free” in your 365 bundle, Slack is adding a social, network effect-driven layer that can adds significant differentiation for why a company would choose Slack. Just like other social networks: if all my partners and customers use Slack, I might as well, too. Combine this with the battle Microsoft is still going to have to fight to break out of relying too heavily on their base of existing customers1, and Slack could compete well, but not on the same terms.
Ben made a good argument here on the challenge ahead for Microsoft: “why would a new company, without any attachment to Microsoft-based workflows, choose Office 365?” That post was over a year ago, and I would say the question is still yet to be answered. ↩