How the Communicator’s Dilemma made a Slacklash inevitable

Mike Trigg

December 5, 2016

With 2.7 million daily users and a $3.8 billion valuation, Slack is one of the most celebrated communication tools and tech companies of the past few years. But more recently an increasing segment of its early adopters have turned against the service, starting a so-called “Slacklash”.

To understand this turnaround in opinion, you have to consider The Communicator’s Dilemma.

All new communication platforms start in quadrant A of the above graph, where you’re communicating with people you know on topics you care about. With few distractions, your new tool seems like a productivity miracle, especially when compared to quadrant D tools like email.

But as your own usage expands and the service itself becomes more popular, you inevitably move out of quadrant A to communicating on ever broader topics with more and more friends and colleagues. The utility of the platform tips from communication to distraction and the Communicator’s Dilemma strikes again.

Don’t blame the tools

Slack is simply going through the same maturation phase as Facebook–now full of distant relatives cluttering your feed with their crazy cats–and LinkedIn–increasingly a platform for the workplace equivalent of cat photos:

The tool itself isn’t the problem. Slack is an excellent messaging service but because it can be used to communicate about anything, most users don’t employ it effectively. Instead the service becomes overloaded with a torrent of messages that teams just can’t keep up with.

In an insightful critique, the founder of Basecamp, argues that near-synchronous messaging services like Slack are problematic because they:

– Expect people to be “always on” and available any time

– Have a short-and-fast format that discourages thoughtful feedback

– Typically lack context of what’s being discussed – particularly for visual work

What was supposed to be a more productive alternative to our overloaded inboxes, has now assumed many of email’s problems. Ultimately it comes back to the Communicator’s Dilemma and the issues inherent with occupying a place in Quadrant D.

Vertical communications are on the up

Email remains useful because most of us need a horizontal communication tool where anyone can contact us about any subject. But too many of these types of tools just end up dividing our attention.

The solution to The Communicator’s Dilemma is to supplement horizontal platforms with vertical services that have a clearly defined purpose, like how engineers discuss software development in Github or marketers and their creative teams collaborate on visual content using Hightail.

If you’re providing feedback on a creative project in Hightail, you have actively chosen to do that specific task, instead of reacting to the flow of your inbox or Slack channel. This helps reduce the inefficiencies of context switching associated with email and because your communication happens in context of the work being discussed, it’s a more effective way of making progress.

Plus, everyone tends to accept that cat pics are not welcome in this environment.

So instead of a Slacklash leading to people abandoning a perfectly good messaging tool, integrate it with other services your teams already use to work together. The #Slackmash trend starts here.

An amended version of this article original appeared on Entrepreneur.