Issue 32

Slacking off

Delivered on 14 May 2019 by Justin Pyvis. About a 4 min read.

Slack is "where work happens", at least if you buy its marketing slogan. It's an important slogan, as once you actually give it a try you realise it's not much more than a chat platform trying to replace the role email plays in the workplace. So how could such an 'innovation', in addition to email (I'll explain why later), possibly be conducive to work? Good question, and Slack even hired a consultant to crunch some numbers:

Consulting firm McKinsey saidback in 2012 that workplace communications technologies have the potential to increase employee productivity by up to 25 percent.

"The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing email and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks," according to the study. McKinsey figured people would be able to more easily and quickly accomplish these task using new workplace software.

The problem lies in the assumption that Slack would displace email. It hasn't, won't and worse, it's actually just another time and productivity sink:

"Applied to Slack, its greatest strength: amazing ease-of-use, is also its weakness: making it far too easy for everyone to default to using Slack for communicating, even for all the myriad things that don’t make sense to use Slack to communicate,” software programmer Alicia Liu wrote last year in a Medium post.

“By lowering the barrier to initiate communication, the hidden side effect is that Slack has the quiet capacity to exponentially increase communication overhead. Resulting in much more voluminous, lower quality communication."

I searched around for how some people might have mitigated that issue in practice, and... it's difficult. Unless you turn Slack back into email, that is:

"It's not just about the tool but how you use it. For us it actually helps to get less distracted. There are very few things that require a sub 3 hour reaction. So we just put a question in Slack even if it's for the person sitting right next to you. Eventually the person will answer when they have some time. Much better than constantly having someone tipping one your shoulder or calling you.

Just because you have instant messages doesn't mean you have to respond instantly. Disable notifications and checking every few hours is plenty enough. If a person can't work because of a pending question, it usually means they don't have their work organised sufficiently."

My view of Slack is that it's a less-searchable email alternative without subject lines that tends to devolve into a medium for casual banter where all real work has to be channelled back through email anyway (as what you actually want is interspersed within that banter).

In other words, Slack is next to useless as a place "where work happens".

But what do I know. Slack has 10 million daily active users and recently filed for an initial public offering (IPO), with a valuation at close to $17 billion. When a number of the Silicon Valley unicorns eventually come crashing down to earth as the current expansion draws to a close, I can't help but feel that Slack will be leading the pack.

We're from the government and we're here to help

The nine most terrifying words in the English language. You can trust the CIA's version of TOR about as much as you can trust that the NSA's data and tools won't ever fall into the wrong hands.

Learn more:

Facebook is moving to the blockchain

It's almost a certainty at this stage that Facebook will move into the financial payments and microtransaction sector. It'll use a stablecoin (pegged to the US dollar) along with the encryption it uses with WhatsApp.

Learn more:

Ugh, another Facebook fail

I want Facebook to get better so that it doesn't dominate the headlines every week. Alas, its privacy-focused "F8" was essentially 100% hype about initiatives it hasn't even developed. All talk. Meanwhile, Google is at least allocating engineers to the privacy problem and coming up with some solutions.

Learn more:

Other bits of interest

Image of the week

"Arguably the most surprising result of our study is that long run returns on housing and equity look remarkably similar. Yet while returns are comparable, residential real estate is less volatile on a national level, opening up new and interesting risk premium puzzles."

Issue 32: Slacking off was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 14 May 2019.