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A couple of weeks ago, my oldest group of friends broke a 15-year streak of communicating regularly via email.

It's not that we've stopped staying in touch. Instead, we decided to modernize and migrate conversations over to Slack, a group chat service whose longstanding mission is to cut down on email.

This was admittedly an unusual move. Slack is supposed to be a tool for team communications, not personal conversation. Its business model revolves around giving away the core product, then upselling enterprise-grade features such as granular message archival controls and unlimited business app integration.

Yet a lot of the things that make Slack alluring for businesses also make it surprisingly enjoyable for personal groups:

  • Each group's "workspace" can have multiple chat rooms, so you can spare the full group from conversations on narrower interests. (We have separate gaming and music rooms, for example.)
  • You can easily alert a particular person by @ mentioning them or sending them a private message.
  • You can break off discussions into separate threads that avoid cluttering up the main chat.
  • All the photos and other files people share are viewable in one place, and you can bookmark important messages.
  • It works pretty much the same way across iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and the web. Unlike when Android users crash an iMessage party, there's no drama when different device types mix.
  • There are some fun apps you can use inside Slack, such as Cooler (which compiles a playlist of all shared music links), Giphy (for sending animated GIFs), and Simple Poll for voting on contentious topics. You can even add a Zoom integration to start video calls directly from Slack.
  • The free version should cover the vast majority of personal use cases, and there are no ads or sales of personal data to worry about.

While I'm hardly the first person to discover Slack's potential for personal use, the desire for more digital communication during the pandemic finally made it click for me. Whether it'll work for you will likely come down to how you communicate with your friends and family.

Where Slack works best

I should note up front that I'm already using Slack for work. Both IDG (the publisher of TechHive and PCWorld) and Fast Company rely on Slack for everyday communications, so I regularly bounce between these two workspaces to coordinate with my editors. The notion of looping personal communication into the same app was enticing, and a few of my friends had the same motivation. Expect more of an uphill battle if no one you know uses Slack already.

It's also safe to say that larger groups are better for Slack. The more people that join, the greater the odds that your group will converse enough to make the habit stick, and the more you'll be able to justify having multiple chat rooms and spin-off threads. A small group that always stays on topic should be fine with texts or emails instead.

In a similar vein, it also helps if you send a lot of messages (or aspire to). For years, our friend group would send hundreds of emails per day, and trying to read through them all got pretty gnarly. Like any other chat app, Slack just flows better, and its bookmarking, sorting, and threading features really come in handy when lots of messages are flying around.

So what's the downside?

As one friend of mine pointed out, if you are using Slack already, having personal communications in the same place might only encourage checking into work after hours. It can be hard to resist the little unread message dots that Slack shows over your other workspaces.

The bigger issue, though, is that you might lose some people in the transition. Among those of us who've enthusiastically embraced Slack, the volume of conversation seems to have increased well beyond our previous email use, but we also have a few folks who aren't really participating at all, either out of neglect or spite. Is an active-yet-fractured chat group better than a less conversive whole? I haven't quite settled on the answer.
 

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Thanks again,
Jared