I converse with people every day on all sorts of different online channels; I guess I’m sort of a chat connoisseur. Since I don’t have a work team these days, the only big group chat that consumes any time at all is my local Ingress faction community. It’s been on Google+ Hangouts for over a year, but they just moved over to Slack.

G+ Hangouts are great · Because they keep track, globally, of what I’ve seen on all my screens and devices, and are very good at only showing me what’s new. No real-time channel I’d ever used got that quite right before.

G+ runs everything over HTTPS and your communication is pretty private. Well, to the extent you trust Google. Which I tend to, given the alternatives.

Also, there’s nice integration with video-chat.

…except for… · It uses these stupid klunky widgets across the bottom of my browser (and sometimes the bottom of my screen). When they update, anyone who knows how browsers work can almost hear the DOM nodes thrashing furiously as they stuff new messages in. And when you want to enlarge a photo in a Hangout, you’re waiting for a slow, lurching animation that apparently is a consequence of the integration with G+ photos.

Also, it historically made everyone use some approximation of their real name, so you have to maintain the real-name/game-handle mapping in your head. Yeah, a lot of people worked around that and now I gather “real names” are history. But it’s an irritant.

G+ has a sophisticated API but it’s very focused on keeping anyone from spamming the channels.

Oh, and the moderation tools are pretty weak.

Finally, there’s a limit of 100 people per hangout.

Slack is great · It’s basically IRC, only with nice visual clients for Web, Android, and iOS. It knows you by your email and only your email, it installs and Just Works, and it runs fast. It’s got an API that apparently gets out of the way, judging by the integrations list.

It doesn’t care how many people are in a channel. It doesn’t care what you choose to call yourself. It’s got good-enough moderation tools to suppress and remove irritants. The clients I’ve tried (not including iOS) run really fast and smooth.

The visuals and screen updates are lightweight and real easy on the eye.

On top of which · Slack does that G+ thing about keeping track of what you’ve seen regardless of where you saw it.

…except for… · Well, um, Slack does allow you to run over HTTP not HTTPS; Bad, bad Slack. Also, once you’ve shared your email with Slack you’ve shared it with all the people in the chat; so either you trust them or you use a throwaway address.

[Update:] It turns out that Slack is (mostly) talking HTTPS, but URLs that people post to channels can cause is-this-page-safe confusion.

And Slack’s Android preferences are kind of klunky, going on about “push notifications” as if anyone knows what that means. Does it sound like I’m having trouble thinking of problems? Yep.

Finally, it’s just another walled garden, and I haven’t found its Data Liberation Front. But the XMPP dream of interoperable anything-to-anything chat on the Internet still hasn’t much traction outside of the geek community. And like I said, Slack doesn’t really do much that IRC doesn’t. But IRC does a lot of the right things.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: James Sherrett (from Slack) (Jul 18 2014, at 10:59)

Thanks for the notes on switching for G+ Hangouts to Slack, Tim. Just curious about where you're seeing anything unencrypted in Slack?

Also, if you ever miss Hangouts you can type the /hangout command in any Slack channel to fire one up.

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From: Brent J. Nordquist (Jul 18 2014, at 11:01)

The 99-person limit is the biggest flaw of Hangouts, IMO. I'm using Hangouts now as my SMS client, it's pretty much the only messaging client I use on a daily basis. I agree, I like best that I can flip from mobile to web and back without losing my place or having to re-read stuff.

And my local Ingress groups use Hangouts and events/invitations, etc., it all works great. But we regularly end up with more than 99 people we want to put in a hangout for regional coordination.

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From: Matěj Cepl (Jul 23 2014, at 04:03)

And if Slack is just better IRC, what’s so wrong with IRC itself? I am a huge fan of XMPP, but I have to admit I don’t see in the open source world any will to move from IRC anywhere. If you don't mind public, Freenode just works, and of course, nothing is more private than ircd behind VPN.

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From: CI (Aug 21 2014, at 19:16)

Hi, nice read! Our Ingress community is also looking into other options, especially cause in hangouts you can't kick people out and we had several problems with that. Moving everybody is annoying.

We are considering Groupme and Slack, personally, I like Slack better, but I would like to make a case. I have a list of things where Groupme is better, but don't know how important they are to tilt the balance.

How did you come to the decision? What other options did you consider and why you chose slack?

Thanks!

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