Four Myths About Slack

Shedding some much-needed light on what the collaboration tool can and can't do.
Sep | 12 | 2018

Sep | 12 | 2018


Now that I’m ensconced in the world of Slack, I thought that I’d take some time to dispel some of its misconceptions. In this post, I’ll address some of the biggest myths about Slack.

Myth 1: Slack is essentially the same as e-mail.

This one really rankles me. Comparing Slack to e-mail is akin to saying that a driver is tantamount to a pitching wedge. Yes, technically both are golf clubs, but even trick-shot master Bubba Watson would never hit his driver out of a bunker. By the same token, you’d never hit wedge off of the tee on a par 5.

OK, enough golf analogies. When you receive an e-mail, you have to spend at least a few seconds processing its context—even with spam. In my pre-Slack days, typical e-mail-related questions included:

  1. Is this person one of my current students?
  2. If yes, which class is this student taking?
  3. Is this an individual or team-related issue?
  4. Is this spam?
  5. What does this student want?

Enter Slack channels—effectively e-mail rules on steroids. Thanks to them, these first four questions simply don’t exist—and I benefit from not having to consistently think about them. Each message arrives with a great deal of its context already in place.

I’m no neuroscientist, but I strongly suspect that Slack channels decrease the amount of cognitive effort required to understand the context of each message. For instance, in my case, consider what I know when I receive a message in my Slack CIS236 HW6 channel:

  • The sender is a current student in my CIS236 class
  • That student wants me to answer a specific query related to that homework assignment
  • The question does not relate to a group project because I created separate channels for that specific purpose (assuming that the student uses channels properly)

This. Is. Enormous.

Because of Slack, I’m instantly able to (better) contextualize each student’s question. Even if I save ten seconds per query every day, that time adds up over the course of a day, a week, a month, and a semester. My brain doesn’t need to work as hard on little things. Put differently, I don’t need to expend any superfluous mental energy on the student’s message. I can immediately begin researching and answering that question. This is concurrently efficient and effective.

You cannot easily poll others via e-mail. Outlook and Gmail don’t provide interesting insights on usage statistics. I could go on but I’ll get to the next myth about Slack.

Myth 2: Slack requires a great deal of technical sophistication.

Again, this one is patently false. Sure, I teach data- and tech-related subjects. To boot, since I was a kid, I have known my way around a computer. If I taught poetry, however, using Slack would still make sense. It requires zero programming chops. If you are familiar with social networks, then you can learn the essentials of Slack in minutes, not days or weeks. Case in point: Guess what the @-symbol does?

Myth 3: Slack obviates the need for in-person communication.

Slack channels decrease the amount of cognitive load necessary to understand the context of each message.

Even though I don’t e-mail my students and vice-versa, I still apply my three-message rule. What’s more, sometimes text-based messages just don’t make sense—irrespective of the tool. Whether it’s on the phone or during office hours, certain scenarios mandate that it is best to go old school and talk.

Myth 4: Slack is perfect and solves all communication-related issues.

Slack is no panacea for miscommunication. As I write in Message Not Received, no tool is. Misunderstandings can and do still take place. (See the previous myth for one way to minimize these.)

With respect to technical issues, remember that Slack is software. As such, sometimes things break. Features that work on one operating system or in one browser may fail on another—at least in the short term. If you think that e-mail clients never experience issues, think again.

Simon Says: Don’t fall prey to the myths about Slack.

A pox on those who dismiss Slack for the reasons mentioned above. No, the tool isn’t perfect, but the juice is more than worth the squeeze.

Am I missing any? Chime in below.

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