“Pure noise”: The backlash against Slack begins


blog If you’ve worked inside large organisations at all, recently, you’re probably aware that the Slack communications platform is becoming all-pervasive. I’ve used it myself in a couple of roles, and it’s very clear that it’s an excellent tool for communication. It’s great for providing quick communication across geographically dispersed locations or even inside the same office, using many of the same techniques that has made Twitter so popular.

However, recently I’ve begun to detect a wave of dissent against Slack. The platform opened up a great deal of communication and collaboration options for corporations … but at the same time, it has also created yet another distraction into our modern workplace. It may end up creating as many problems as it solves.

One negative view of Slack comes from Australian Microsoft MVP Loryan Strant, who writes on his blog (we recommend you click here for the full post):

“Slack is noise, pure noise. Apart from breaking things up into channels and teams – it is just a never-ending unstructured mess of conversation tidbits. It’s like standing in a crowded bar and trying to have a conversation in a group of people, and like in that scenario people start their own conversations across the group or to the side. It’s supposed to be live but it’s not, and you can’t tell if someone has actually left – which might leave you hanging mid-conversation.”

A similar view comes from Ripple Effect Group consultant James Dellow, who writes on his blog (again, click here for the full post):

“Unfortunately Slack (and to be fair, tools like it) have features that encourage users to be constantly connected and attentive to the stream of activity. Slack also makes it extremely easy to post rich content and aggregate other information into it.

As others have reported, the more critical Slack is to work practices, the more difficult it becomes not to be available and the fear of missing something important increases stress … some people will absolutely love Slack while others will find it creates stress, increases the length of their effective working hours and adds to information overload.”

I don’t use Slack at the moment, but I do suffer from a strong degree of information overload. A huge, overwhelming email inbox, stacks of RSS feeds I need to read daily, phone calls, Twitter, site and forum comments on Delimiter, SMS messages and more … I’ve got it all, with the exception of Facebook, which I killed off a few months ago, harpooning it like the giant fat useless whale that it is.

Recently I’ve come to the belief that the best way to handle all of this growing storm is to shut it out entirely for substantial periods of the day, then setting certain periods where I can dip in and address the most urgent of the issues. If you don’t do that, you probably won’t be able to actually get your work (you know, the stuff you get paid to do) done.

Of course, this approach doesn’t fit well with the ‘always on’ nature of platforms such as Slack. Like Strant and Dellow, I am starting to pity those who are subject to its iron rule.


  1. Its a bit like having meetings that just run on and on and on and on etc. Wastes just as much time for a company and I bet if they were to track the hours spent on Slack most would be a little shocked at the $ cost at the end of the day.

  2. I must confess that I didn’t even know what slack was till today, it sounds ghastly tho!

    I’m used to Sametime and Lync (or whatever ms call it this week) and have always find them to be excellent and very useful, especially in very large organisations.

    • yeah same, I’d never heard of it til yesterday when there was a story about Microsoft deciding NOT to buy it for some 8 billion dollars.

      fwiw, I work with quite a few large organisations.

      • In my opinion, Microsoft needs to buy Slack ASAP, no matter the price. This is not a space Microsoft can afford not to be in, and Slack is a subscription business growing fast. Locked in revenue. Once people are on it … they tend not to get off it.

        • Have you never used ms Lync? (Or business Skype I think it’s called now)

          It’s quite excellent and not a total noise fest.

        • Microsoft have a track history of ignoring the IM market. Dumping Messenger was yet another stupid idea. Currently they are still pushing Skype for personal AND business messaging, and we all know what a dud that is.

  3. I think with a bit of discipline from other team members, Slack is extremely effective for (small) group communications.

    Calling it unstructured is just a reflection on a lack of available channels or usage of PMs and @mentions. Notification settings are quite granular as well so it is not all that difficult to silence most or all channels to your preferences.

    The API integrations are extremely comprehensive and useful to developers.

    I admit that it can become a bit of a burden checking all unread messages across multiple groups, but I don’t see any other way that Slack could work. Surely the last thing anyway wants is another algorithm based communication tool that shows us only what HAL 9000 decides we should see.

    • “I admit that it can become a bit of a burden checking all unread messages across multiple groups, but I don’t see any other way that Slack could work.”

      This being the crux of the issue, much like peoples inbox fill with too many emails that need attn (ie not spam) I think the underlying concept here is ultimately flawed. I dare any business to come up with real quantifiable numbers that it has in fact saved them time and money as well (which should be above and beyond said subscription costs too) that couldn’t have been done with say just a bit more discipline in general.

  4. Sounds a lot like hipchat. Ok I did a search and yes it is a direct competitor to HipChat. I like HipChat as I have become used to it at work. We also have several other chat tools, like skype (definitely inferior to HipChat), and others that are not really worth mentioning.

    Slack sounds too busy from the reviews I have read, I think I might suggest we stay with HipChat if we get asked. HipChat has a nice simple UI and I have never had any issues with reliability like someone online suggested.

  5. Like any other communications platform, or methodology or anything “new”, that becomes popular will reach a critical mass of users that don’t have the discipline to use it properly, and therefore it turns into a free-for-all waste of time. A case of “implement X as soon as possible, I’ve heard good things about it”. It’s why good management costs a lot of money.

  6. People can generate ‘filler’ content far too easily so it ends up wasting a large portion of everyone’s time in an even harder to track way than email.

    There are narrow usages where IM etc can be helpful imho but I honestly believe anything greater than a 1 to 1 chat really ought to be avoided in business at least in my experience, even smallish groups (I’ve been programming in Dev dept’s spanning the country & globe too). Its far to inefficient a medium time wise when it boils down to it (who can type faster than they speak? fastest type dominates!). It can even be a pain socially for many the same reasons its not good for business.

    If you have a group of people spread all across Australia working on something its far better to arrange for them to conference call (real phones/voip/apps whatever … headsets are dead cheap) when things need dealing with or just a semi regular meeting style. Draw up a few quick dot points, have some basic minutes and resolutions jotted down and distributed via ye olde email (or shared workspace/CM System/File system etc)

    I mean if this was really any good wouldn’t there have been widespread usage of say IRC well before now? ;)

  7. “One negative view of Slack comes from Australian Microsoft MVP Loryan Strant, who writes on his blog: It’s not Microsoft!”

    Slack can be a mess but we put it to good use with our small team. It’s mainly used for brief interactions which would otherwise clutter up email inboxes. It also provides a handy record for everyone and a way to quickly supply files and other information.

    We also have specific channels for some projects which then die off when the project is over.

    Integrations we use include BitBucket, CodeShip, HelpScout, Stripe, InVision, Trello and others. It provides notifications in one spot and a history of actions.

    How I use it may be different to others. I don’t rely on Slack for instant communication, I use it to keep the information exchange ticking over in the background. I don’t have an app on my phone and don’t use it outside work hours.

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