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Slack toppled email (kinda). With A.I., can it fend off competitors?


Email is an important and indispensable resource for the modern working professional. Everyone uses it, everyone has an email address — it’s platform neutral. You can reliably get ahold of someone via email (most of the time, anyway).

I also know a great number of people who hate it.

I have a cadre of employees who work for ENO8 that downright loathe it. Getting to “inbox zero” is a near obsession. Seeing that red notification badge on their iOS mail client drives them up a wall, so they feel the need to check it incessantly. And few things drive them crazier than people trying to have a rapid-fire conversation via email, as their own red badges’ numbers climb steadily higher.

Email is a great and important tool; a realtime conversation platform it is not.

Slack > Email?

Over the years, a number of companies and solutions have tried to fill this void in the workplace communication environment. I’ve worked at different places that used everything from AOL Instant Messenger to Basecamp, HipChat, Microsoft’s Lync, and Jabber. For most startups and/or younger companies I’ve come in contact with, though, Slack is the platform of choice in 2018.

In a lot of ways, Slack is super useful on a productivity level because it removes a boatload of emails from your life. On the other hand, I know from personal experience, it can also take the place of the office water cooler — people still waste time at work chatting with coworkers, they just type it out via Slack instead of going somewhere to do it in person. But on the whole, Slack has been a boon for productivity and connectivity in the modern office space. But, as with anything, it can become bloated and burdensome much as email did as users add endless channels and interest groups to the platform.

So how does Slack, with 77% market penetration into the Fortune 100 and a recent valuation north of $5 billion, stay king of the block with users who love it while still keeping those employees efficient at work, as their employers want?

Why, A.I. of course!

Slackbot beefs up

As reported in the MIT Technology Review:

“In early 2016, the startup hired Stanford-trained computer scientist Noah Weiss to make the platform smarter and more useful. Over the past year and a half, Weiss’s group has used machine learning to enable faster, more accurate information searches within Slack and identify which unread messages are likely to matter most to each user. Eventually, Weiss aims to make Slack function like your ruthlessly organized, multitasking assistant who knows everything that’s going on and keeps you briefed on only the most salient events.”

Despite investment in the right places and trend lines moving in the right direction, Slack’s march to glory isn’t without obstacles awaiting it around multiple bends. Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all released office collaboration tools in the last couple of years, and with large user bases to exploit, they have a bit of a ‘first mover’ advantage over even the uber-popular Slack. But if Slack can get its A.I. right, it can preserve a lot of its superiority in this space.

Some of those A.I.-backed features are already in a live environment; quoting the MIT Technology Review again:

“One feature shows which people within a company talk about particular topics most often in Slack and where those discussions take place. The information, which appears when users conduct searches in Slack, is meant to pinpoint subject experts so people can direct questions to their most knowledgeable and accessible colleagues. Another feature, added last year, evaluates all of a user’s unread messages, across all Slack channels; highlights up to 10 of the ones its algorithms deem most important; and presents them in a single list.”

Risky business?

This is but a taste of what Slack’s working on in regards to integrating A.I. into its already powerful offering. It’s not without risks — if A.I. caused you to miss a really important note, for instance, you’d probably lose a lot of confidence in Slack as a tool/platform. So, Slack is walking a tightrope to take its platform to the next level while preserving that which users already love.

For any company looking to make their business stronger or more efficient by leveraging artificial intelligence, it’s worth considering the possible cost of failure. That’s why it might make a lot of sense to work with an innovation expert on any such integration (hint hint: that’s us!).

Slack is trying to lead the way — don’t get left behind when A.I. totally changes your industry…


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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff founded ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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