Protocol | 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."

Protocol | Workplace

Google contractor says she was fired for 'ungoogley' behavior

According to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, "ungoogley" is Google's term for having a bad attitude.

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job after asking about pay.

Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job for "ungoogley" behavior after asking about holiday pay at a meeting with management, according to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a lawyer for the Alphabet Workers Union.

Tuesday Carne said in an interview with Protocol that she was fired after just nine days of working in the data contracting facility in South Carolina. Carne's termination letter (which Protocol reviewed) called her behavior at the meeting "unacceptable and 'ungoogley'" and claimed that her behavior was the reason for her firing.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

The fintech developers who made mobile banking as routine as texting or online shopping aren't done. The next frontier for innovation is open banking – fintech builders are enabling consumers to be at the center of where and how their data is used to provide the services they want and need.

Most people don't even realize they're using open banking services today. If they connected their investment and banking accounts in a personal financial management solution or app, they're using open banking. Perhaps they've seen ads about how they can improve their credit score by uploading pay stubs or utility records to that same app – this is also powered by open banking.

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Bob Schukai
Bob Schukai is Executive Vice President of Technology Development, New Digital Infrastructure & Fintech at Mastercard, where he leads the technical design, execution and support of innovative open banking and fintech solutions, as well as next generation technologies to support global payment and data capabilities. Prior to Mastercard, Schukai’s work focused on cognitive computing, financial technology, blockchain, user experience and digital identity. He is also a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Protocol | Policy

Biden FCC nominee Sohn is walking a tightrope with Republicans

Gigi Sohn faces plenty of GOP opposition, but the longtime net-neutrality advocate is hoping to pick up a little Republican support as she deals with Democrats’ narrow margins.

Gigi Sohn’s work for net neutrality has become an issue in her confirmation hearings for the FCC.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gigi Sohn wouldn’t mind getting support from a Republican or two, and it’d certainly make her path back to the Federal Communications Commission easier.

During her Senate Commerce Committee confirmation on Wednesday, Sohn, a progressive favorite and longtime net-neutrality advocate, touted her commitment to ensuring a diversity of voices on the airwaves, her past fights for small conservative networks she personally disagrees with and her habit of socializing with those she battles on policy.

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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.

Protocol | Workplace

Microsoft Teams is going after small businesses

Microsoft Teams Essentials offers longer, bigger meetings for a relatively small price tag.

Companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams.

Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Microsoft announced Wednesday that companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams — one of its most important products and a major player in work messaging and video chat, alongside Slack and Zoom. The product, called Microsoft Teams Essentials, aims to give small or medium-sized businesses a communication hub that costs less than its competitors'.

Microsoft will charge small businesses $4 per user per month for Microsoft Teams Essentials, while Zoom’s cheapest paid plan is $14.99 per user per month and Slack’s is $6.67 per user each month, when billed annually. The free version of Microsoft Teams still exists, as do the various other Microsoft 365 plans that include Teams. Teams Essentials offers longer meeting times, larger group meetings and more cloud storage.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about NTIA nominee Alan Davidson

If confirmed, the former Googler will play a key role in shaping the unprecedented expansion of broadband across the country.

Alan Davidson has been nominated to lead the NTIA.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — a traditionally somewhat-sleepy role that is taking on new prominence in the wake of the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

That law gives the NTIA authority to write the rules and oversee the distribution of $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure grants to states, a duty that will require it to massively scale its internal resources. To lead the charge, Biden has nominated Alan Davidson, a well-known figure in Washington who has spent his career cycling through government, industry and advocacy groups. If confirmed, Davidson would have perhaps the most important role in guiding an unprecedented expansion of internet access in America.

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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.

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