Sunday, January 10, 2016

What's the best way to communicate effectively? (January 10)

I've talked a LOT about messaging services. I've had conversations about them with various people for years, and in person or on a variety of those messaging services themselves.

I take communication very seriously, so when a new application comes out that purports to change the world by making it easier to keep in touch with important people, I take note. It was clear to me from the moment I first got a cell phone that SMS (text messages) wasn't the future of anything.

When I first got online in a real way, the people I needed to keep in touch with were all using MSN Messenger. It was a chat application that, considering the era, was pretty advanced and had a lot of users. In fact, there are probably many people who never stopped using that, then Windows Live Messenger, and then its modern equivalent, Skype (after Microsoft bought Skype).

I've moved through many chat platforms claiming to be the best new thing, and several of them were. Facebook Messenger started off very slowly, but is now used by around a billion people on a regular basis. I used Google Talk through a lot of my university career, and it was really great when all my friends were on our work computers using Gmail all day every day.

Google Hangouts was my go-to chat platform from its inception until the middle of last year, and I still use that application for video calls and keeping in touch with family. I also keep in contact with many people, including some I've never met in person, through Twitter.

I think the fundamental issue with keeping up to date on what the best communication platform is, is simple. I think that there actually is no BEST communications platform for all uses. Each one has unique features that set it apart from the others, and the success of all of them for you depend heavily on whether you know people that also use them.

I have been proselytizing Slack for a little over a year now as my favourite communication tool, and it's an incredibly popular tool for keeping in contact with small to medium pockets of people, because it mimics the way groups actually communicate in the real world. You can centre conversations around topics, or include only subsets of users in a given Slack team, and I think compartmentalizing like that makes communication in Slack really efficient compared to other platforms.

I'm not saying Slack is the objective best communication platform for everybody to keep in touch with everybody else, because it isn't. But for me, for most of the people I keep in touch with on a very regular basis, I can't get over its incredible usefulness. Below are just a few of the ways I prefer Slack to many other messaging platforms.

1. You have a personal chat room. You can send messages to a helpful AI powered robot called Slackbot, or just use this chat thread to leave yourself messages or remind yourself of things. I use it all the time to keep track of things, and I find it incredibly useful to have one place I can throw text or ideas or links when I need to.
2. You can share links with people and Slack automatically provides searchable context. In comparison with Facebook Messenger, which will pop up and provide a picture and the title of the link you send, Slack with actually paste in text what is contained in the link, an image for context, and a short description of the page at the end of the link. It's incredibly useful.
3. Slack can passively let you keep tabs on a conversation without being notified of every message. You can control which chats will be able to notify you and how the notification comes to you, to your phone, to your computer, etc.
4. You can tag people and other conversations in channels. I could let Mike know I needed his attention for something just by mentioning his name, and I could refer to the "cooking" channel in a conversation with my friends if I'd posted a recipe in there.
5. Perhaps the best thing you can do with Slack is integrate other services. You can paste links to a Google Document and it will automatically figure out which document you are referring to, and keep track of all Google Docs that have been posted in one place. You can set it up to forward Tweets from Twitter into a channel to keep tabs on a topic or a Twitter account any group might care about. It's incredibly versatile and I have about 5-6 different services that all connect with Slack right now.
I love Slack, and I would use it even if nobody else was around, but if you're in a team or want to stay in touch with a group of people with more than one simple conversation, this is the way to do it. You'll never derail a whole group of people with an off-topic remark again (or at least it's a lot easier to avoid). Go try Slack at Slack.com. They have apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and the web!