So Slack Solved Team Chat, But What About Email?

When our team first adopted Slack back in 2014, we felt that team chat had finally been “solved.” Prior tools we had used such as Skype and GChat were designed for individuals not companies, and using them for team communication felt cumbersome. Slack gave us centralized team management, granular notifications controls, and importantly, public and private discussion channels. We’ve been happily Slacking ever since.

Email, on the other hand, has gone in the other direction. Over time, email seems to have become less useful as an internal communications tool. With inboxes flooded with unsolicited emails (not to mention social notifications, reminders, and newsletters) it almost feels rude to add yet another unread message to your teammates’ flooded inboxes. Perhaps subconsciously, our team has gradually migrated almost all of our internal communications over to Slack.

This, however, has presented its own issues.

Slack is real-time by nature. Slack shows you presence indicators for each person, so you know who’s online now. It notifies you of new messages. When you Slack someone, you can’t help but expect an immediate response. Slack brings with it a culture of urgency and immediacy, which can be both good and bad.

Where Slack seems less useful is with non-urgent, more structured, and more deliberative conversations. That time you had a great big picture idea about next year’s marketing plan, but didn’t want to Slack it to the #marketing channel and distract an entire team from their tasks at hand. Or that Sunday when you wanted to share a list of to-dos with a co-worker, but resisted so not to make them feel obliged to think about work on the weekend.

Non-urgent communications like these tend to fall to email, but email has its own shortcomings. Emails are inherently private, so there’s no central repository for sharing threads across a team and searching prior team conversations. Conversations can quickly become noisy and disorganized as new people are cc’ed and threads diverge into sub-conversations. Like a chat message, sending an email can also feel invasive, as if you’re expecting an immediate response.

There’s no doubt that many important conversations simply don’t get started because they fall between Slack’s real-time communication model and the formality (and intrusiveness) of sending an email.

One of my engineers (who pays particular attention to new tech) recently turned me onto a new service which was created by the makers of the popular Todoist app. This new service, called Twist, looks a lot like Slack, but with two main differences. First, by default, Twist does not send notifications. Second, Twist is structured around topical threads instead of individual messages. You need to actually stop and think of a topic before simply blasting a message.

In a blog post, the makers of Twist called their service a “bet against chaotic, one-line-at-a-time chat” and a “bet for organized, thoughtful conversations that really move work forward.” I think they’re onto something.

Composing a message on Twist feels a lot like composing an email. You create a topic (like an email subject line), decide who should see it, then post it. From there, Twist feels more like a group message board than a messaging app. Like a forum, discussions are organized by topic and then thread, and you can simply read each thread from start to finish to catch up.

Because Twist does not send you notifications, you need to proactively check it now and then to see all the new messages. But checking Twist just feels nicer than catching up on your email. You can browse Twist by channel, skip threads that don’t interest you, and catch up on conversations in their entirety. You can chime in with your own messages, knowing that you won’t be disrupting anyone, and simply build on the discussion.

Most importantly, using Twist simply feels less urgent and less obliged than other messaging tools. You get the sense that you don’t need to reply every message on Twist, and there’s definitely no sense of immediacy. It feels calm and thoughtful, and I think this is what the creators intended.

At our company, we’ve started to use Twist for almost all of our non-urgent conversations. Interestingly, the number of these slower, more deliberative conversations we’re having seems to be rising. We’re brainstorming big picture topics more often and in greater depth. We’re soliciting each other’s feedback on things we’re working on more often. We’re sharing more ideas and updates.

I personally have a better sense of what my team members are thinking on a range of issues. By creating a venue for more open sharing of non-urgent ideas, Twist has encouraged a new type of communication which I believe really helps us move forward as a company.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re still huge fans of Slack and use it a ton everyday. But we use Twist a lot now too, and it has genuinely fostered more of the slower, more thoughtful discussion that simply was not happening on Slack, or email for that matter. In 2014, it felt like Slack had solved team chat. In 2017, it feels like Twist just might have solved email.

We have no affiliation whatsoever with the makers of Twist. We think Twist will be a new trend in startups and we wanted to share our experience. We repeat, we love Slack too!

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Michael Quoc

Michael Quoc

Founder Demand.io. Working at the intersection of e-commerce, decentralization, creator economics & conversational SEO. Prepping for #web3.