Workplace

Slack was built for humans. Now its tools talk, too.

In Slack's new platform, your calendars and doc apps can chat with each other.

A set of drag-and-drop building blocks in a customized workflow

Slack's new platform falls in line with head of Platform Steve Wood's projected vision at last year's Frontiers conference: the place users keep track of everything important happening in their company.

Image: Slack

Slack wants to help your work tools talk with each other, and with you — all on Slack's new platform, unveiled at its annual Frontiers conference Tuesday.

Slack is the central hub of communication for at least 177,000 paying customers. With everyone working from home, it positioned itself as the ideal "digital headquarters" for companies, releasing tools like Slack Huddles to facilitate more connection. But work is about more than talking, and our work is spread across more apps than ever. "We want to make it so that Slack is highly customizable in the sense that you can get more of the business outcomes you need inside of Slack using the apps you have today," said Steve Wood, Slack's head of platform.

The new platform falls in line with Wood's projected vision at last year's Frontiers conference: the place users keep track of everything important happening in their company, compiling information from other tools and platforms. At a press briefing in preparation for this year's Frontiers, CEO Stewart Butterfield described the new platform as "a real perfect bridge" between "a solid, dependable professional structured system" and "looser, sometimes messier, more conversational actions."

"We have rebuilt the platform, and that's not hyperbole," Wood said. Slack's platform already allowed developers to build their own apps and workflows within Slack itself. But for the most part, the apps were siloed. For example, Outlook and Google Calendar apps couldn't coordinate to schedule a meeting through Slack. On Slack's new platform, developers can create apps that talk to each other.

Eventually, Slack users will be able to look at these apps and fit them together into customized workflows for their company. They'll build workflows with no code, simply dragging and dropping the apps together. Slack already has a workflow builder, but not for complex or highly specific processes. You can set up a daily check-in reminder in a channel, but you can't, for example, create a multistep sales approval process that might trigger a "request signature" notification in DocuSign. What will these workflows look like? It's all a bit nebulous right now, as Slack wants to wait and see what developers create in private beta.

"We're watching to see what our developer ecosystem does, and then we'll work on the builder for normal people," Wood said, noting that over a million developers use the platform. "The approach we're taking with that is we want you to find a useful workflow that works for you."

Apps communicating with each other is also a big deal for Slack Connect, which allows users to talk to people outside their companies. The same building blocks and workflows can be used in the Connect channel as well. "We see this as being a very powerful way for different organizations that have different tools to to come together," said Ilan Frank, VP of Product.

Third-party integrations continue to be important to Slack, as the platform wants to notify users of what happens in outside apps. Wood's team is working on allowing people to subscribe to third-party app notifications within Slack. Salesforce, Slack's parent company, is a key integration within Slack. Smartsheet, the tracking tool for managers, also integrates with Slack and has helped build inter-tool notifications. Cynthia Tee, Smartsheet's senior VP of Engineering, said "people should work where they want to work." If Smartsheet users want to stay in Slack, so be it.

"It's all about keeping you in the place you want to be when you want to collaborate with folks over Smartsheet," Tee said. "It enables you to not only view that document, but say, 'Hey, I want to be notified whenever something happens in this document.'"

People often complain about the noise within Slack; constant pinging or unread messages in channels can be overwhelming. Introducing more notifications into that environment could make that issue worse. But Wood argued third-party notifications can be powerful, especially with customized workflows around them.

"The world isn't getting any slower and it's not getting less noisy anytime soon," Wood said. "You have the tools to escalate the things that you want to escalate and to silence the things you don't care about."

Policy

Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and 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 Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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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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