Instant messaging from your computer got its foothold with applications like iChat, Skype and Microsoft Messenger. They all presented with their own strengths, but they also had some pretty significant shortcomings.
Gradually over the past 3 or 4 years, MSN Messenger has all but disappeared and iChat, now named Messages has become more and more flakey, vulnerable to network issues and there's not been much in the way of functional improvements – unless you count the hook up with your phone's messages, which frankly is often weird and annoying.
At Custom D we've always liked to have some sort of group message board for sharing things about the company with other staff or somewhere to have a bit of banter amongst the team. Originally we built our own and embedded it in our custom made Dashboard. But we found it was a lot of work to maintain and keep current and relevant.
So we switched to Yammer a couple of years ago, but have always found it clunky unreliable and not very intuitive.
We felt like we needed something else... A few weeks ago we got Slack... and we love, love, love it!
Slack does an awesome job of combining a company wide message board with the more personal one-to-one messages. Slack is still newish and I don't love the name for a business tool, but the bones and a fair chunk of the meat are well and truly there.
The interface is really nice, it's very easy to create streams of public conversations which they call 'channels' and private groups for say projects, management discussions – or a sly conversation with a couple of your workmates to plan a lavish birthday surprise for your awesome boss. It's easy to tag people in conversations and to link one conversation with another like you might in Twitter.
Screenshots and images are easily uploaded or even pasted into conversations. They are stored as part of the conversation, and users can comment directly on them. Larger topics can also be given 'posts' of their own with independent comment threads, helping to separate them from the general hubbub.
The ability to highlight words and favourite posts is excellent and being able to customise notifications (i.e. have direct messages and highlighted words only) is simple but a very cool way of cutting down on notification overload.
Whilst you can add people outside your organisation to be part of a particular Group or Channel, there's no way to create a personal buddy list like you can in say Messages.
There are desktop and phone apps which work quite well together, although the iOS app could be a bit more intuitive.
The makers of Slack are keen to see their software embedded in other applications, so they've built an API that we'll be testing out quite soon. As web developers, we particularly like this bit as we're big on integration of as many business tools as possible.
Overall, us Apple junkies have all but dispensed with Messages and Yammer is a gonna. We're giving this app the big thumbs up as it's a great mix of instant messages and threaded style discussion.