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Slack's redesign eyes its next source of growth: Regular people

"If the software makes them feel stupid, they'll bail," Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told Protocol. The new design arrives after years of focus on adding features and amid fresh competition.

Stewart Butterfield, chief executive officer of Slack Technologies, Inc., speaks during an interview outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company's initial public offering

Slack's new redesign "will make a lot of important functionality more easily available," said CEO Stewart Butterfield.

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Slack revealed one of the most significant redesigns in its recent history Wednesday, hoping to make it easier for its growing user base to communicate with colleagues and organize their working lives at a time when businesses have become suddenly reliant on workplace collaboration software.

The new design and features arrive after a week in which Slack has seen "unprecedented, explosive growth in everything," said Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, in an interview with Protocol. Thanks to the global restrictions on travel prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, a lot of the company's customers are using Slack much more than they were a week ago, and a lot of those customers are relatively new to the app, he said. (The company has not publicly quantified the increased usage in any way.)


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The redesign, which was planned long before the current uptick in demand for the service, was sparked in large part by the realization that newer users have a hard time discovering the tools and settings that can help them manage their Slack activity, and it also makes it easier for brand-new users without a lot of activity to get up and running, Butterfield said. The new look also arrives as Slack faces new competitive pressures from Microsoft and its Teams product, which is now used by 20 million people a day (compared to 12 million daily Slack users) and which Microsoft is heavily incentivizing its partners to sell.

"We've had five-plus years of kind of the same overall framework, and during that time we've added enormous amounts of functionality, [roughly] 80% of all the features in Slack were invented after the basic UI," said Butterfield, who founded Slack in 2014 after a long career as a product designer and tech executive. "So there's just an enormous amount of product debt and design debt that was right to be paid off."

A new compose button will let Slack users write their message in a pop-up text box before choosing the intended destination of that message, which might help prevent embarrassing mistakes while hiding the usual sign that you're writing something big: the prolonged "Tom Krazit is typing" message that appears below the main text-entry box on Slack. People will also now be able to organize channels, apps and people under custom topics within the left-hand navigation bar.

"For people who are existing hardcore users of Slack, this new design will make a lot of important functionality more easily available, because we're pushing certain things into the background," Butterfield said. "It will make it much easier for people to manage really active Slack instances because they're able to create their own categorization for channels and collapse a whole bunch of them at once."


Slack compose button Slack's new compose button is one of the new features intended to make the chat app friendlier to new users.Courtesy of Slack.


Several other new features bow to the fact that while Slack rose to prominence as the darling of the Silicon Valley startup world, newer users aren't as interested in pushing the boundaries of what Slack can accomplish, and therefore often don't realize how many tools and settings they can access, Butterfield said.

"A big goal for this redesign was, how do we make it simpler for people to use Slack, enable people to be more organized, and how do we make it easier for them to access all the tools they use," said Brian Elliott, vice president and general manager for Slack Platform.

"People hate, hate, hate to be made to feel stupid," Butterfield said. "If the software makes them feel stupid, they'll bail."

Slack applications will now be available through a lightning-bolt button that will appear in the main text entry box, which will also hide — but not remove — some of the "slash commands" prized by more-experienced Slack users. A new navigation bar at the top of the Slack window promises to make it easier to switch between frequently used channels and pending messages.

The concepts behind the redesign underscore that Slack wants to be a workplace hub based around "channel-based messaging," Elliott said, which is a unique experience the company believes it pioneered.

He emphasized that Slack users spend an average of 90 minutes a day engaged with the product, a number for which there is no easy comparison with Microsoft Teams. And Butterfield noted that Microsoft Teams customers who want to use it across their entire organizations are currently limited to 5,000 users per organization, and can only set up five 5,000-user organizations. (A Microsoft representative later clarified that Microsoft Teams can be used across organizations with more than 25,000 people, but that it requires setting up multiple "tenants," or Office 365 accounts.)

"We've seen very, very few uses of Teams that are at all like the way people use Slack," Butterfield said. In his experience, most Teams users consider it a replacement for Skype for Business ( which Microsoft is phasing out next year), and use Teams as a hub for voice and video calls, features that are available in Slack but less developed: Slack actually uses Zoom for internal voice and video calls, he said.

Still, Slack investors have not reacted well to the growth of Microsoft Teams, although recent market activity makes everybody's stock look pretty bad right now compared to a year ago.


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Earlier this month Slack reported earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations, with a 49% jump in revenue compared to the previous year, but its stock fell precipitously in the aftermath of that earnings report thanks to lower-than-expected guidance being issued right at the start of the massive work-from-home movement caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The new features will begin rolling out Wednesday for desktop users, arriving over the next few weeks. A new edition of Slack's mobile app that incorporates the new features will follow.

Clarification: This post was updated March 19 to include a statement from Microsoft regarding how many people in one company can use Teams.

Protocol | Fintech

Jack Dorsey is so money: What Tidal and banking do for Square

Teaming up with Jay-Z's music streaming service may seem like a move done for flash, but it's ultimately all about the money (and Cash).

Jay-Z performs at the Tidal-X concert at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2017.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

It was a big week for Jack Dorsey, who started by turning heads in Wall Street, and then went Hollywood with an unexpected music-streaming deal.

Dorsey's payments company, Square, announced Monday that it now has an actual bank, Square Financial Services, which just got a charter approved. On Thursday, Dorsey announced Square was taking a majority stake in Tidal, the music-streaming service backed by Jay-Z, for $297 million.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
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Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

How Stripe, Xero and ModSquad work with external partners and customers in Slack channels to build stronger, lasting relationships.

Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

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Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Microsoft’s new Viva tool gives ‘productivity’ a more human definition

Getting more done is still the plan, but Microsoft's trying to help keep everyone sane, too.

Viva Connections is just one part of Microsoft's new way of thinking about the employee experience.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is launching a new set of tools designed to help companies be more productive. That's not a terribly revolutionary thing for Microsoft to do, but the approach this time is quite different. The new set of tools, called Microsoft Viva, is less about increasing operational efficiency or hitting your KPIs faster, and more about making sure employees are happy, sane and feel taken care of.

While Viva is a set of tools, it's ultimately part of an even larger family: Microsoft's building a new "Employee Experience Platform" to try to help redefine, quantify and achieve a new definition of employee success. The industry Microsoft is trying to capture is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year, dominated by companies like ServiceNow. And Viva is Microsoft's first foot into the fray. So far, Viva is four things: Viva Learning, a hub for all of a company's training and courses; Viva Topics, an automatically curated library of various internal videos, presentations and other content; Viva Connections, a Facebook Workplace-style intranet that can help people find resources within the company; and Viva Insights, which aims to measure and help improve employee experience.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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