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Slack’s Platform plan: To be ‘the central nervous system’ of businesses everywhere

Steve Wood joined Slack three months ago as head of Platform, and he wants to turn the chat app into a way to understand everything happening inside a company.

Slack workflows

Slack's move beyond just communication starts with Workflows, helping connect apps to each other (and Slack).

Photo: Slack

Not long after Steve Wood joined Slack in June, as a VP of product for its developer platform, he had a sort of an epiphany. Slack, it turns out, is really good at what Wood calls "events." An event, in his world, is any moment that matters to a business: a lead comes in, a server goes down, a sale is closed, code is committed. Lots of companies use Slack to talk about these moments and to figure out what to do next. But Wood wanted to do even more.

In his first three months at the company, that's how Wood and his team have come to talk about Slack Platform, its tools that allow developers to build their own apps and workflows within Slack. They talk about "the event-driven enterprise" and giving companies and users the ability to know everything important that's happening in their company, no matter where it's happening or how it's being tracked.

At its Slack Frontiers conference, Wood announced new features for Platform users, like the ability to roll out a new app across an entire organization and an increased security profile for enterprise apps. Ahead of his keynote, Wood explained his vision for Platform — and for Slack's future as more than just a place to chat with co-workers.

Steve Wood Steve Wood, Slack's VP of product for Platform.Photo: Slack

Ultimately, Wood said, Slack could act like a traffic cop, telling users what to focus on without forcing them to check a dozen browser tabs or in-app notifications. "The thing with events is that the value of them often degrades with time," Wood said. Stock price changes matter only in the moment; new business leads are far more likely to pan out if they get a call in the first hour. "It's not that our customers aren't already doing this," Wood said, "but we had this idea to take the world of system events to the world of human events, and then bring the two together and have Slack Platform be that mediation layer that kind of manages between the two."

Done poorly, that sounds like notification hell, an endless stream of tiny changes that mostly don't matter. Done right, it turns Slack into the first place people check to see what's happening in every part of the company. Doing it right will be tough, Wood acknowledged: They're working with IBM's Watson to better contextualize and personalize these updates, and will rely on developers and users to figure out for themselves what's important and what isn't.

What Slack doesn't want to be is a full-fledged workplace a la Office or the new Google Workspace. Wood said that Stewart Butterfield likes to joke that building a best-of-breed messaging system is hard enough, without also trying to do the same for spreadsheets and CRMs. "If we become that sort of central nervous system, where events are coming in that need human attention, then all of a sudden we drive the workflows that go back to the systems that are really great at what they do." He's happy to let Salesforce do Salesforce things and Zoom do Zoom things, and Slack can be the jumping-off point for all of them. Slack likes to say that the 2% of your software budget you spend on Slack makes the other 98% more useful.

The other thing Wood is working on is making it easier for people to build these apps and workflows in Slack. He spoke proudly of the fact that 175,000 people have built workflows for Slack, and 77% of them are classified as "non-technical." Slack's now working with Zapier to bring its huge library of integrations into Slack, too. In theory, many of the workflows that currently require human intervention could soon happen entirely automatically, with only a notification showing up in Slack that everything is done and dusted.

The trick with making all those foolproof no-code tools, though, is that they can often prevent tech teams from building more powerful, custom things they need to run their business. That's where Wood said some of Slack's Platform APIs will come in. "I tend to bifurcate the platform a little bit," he said. "We have this no-code piece, which is really to empower our Slack customers and allow them to do more. And then we have the developers that can extend those things. But I see less of a model where one would jump between those two things." The no-code opportunity seems to be the larger one for Slack, though.

Slack's main project continues to be interpersonal communication. At Frontiers the company announced new ways for users to connect with people outside of their organization, new ideas about audio and video chat, and more. But remember: Slack is trying to kill email. And the only way to kill email is to kill the notifications, the status updates, the "something happened" notes that clutter too many inboxes. If Slack can move those into Slack, and make them a little smarter, that's one less reason to ever check email.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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