1. Immune Engineering

    Immune Engineering

    Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start.

  2. Precise Gene Editing in Plants

    Precise Gene Editing in Plants

    CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.

  3. Conversational Interfaces

    Conversational Interfaces

    Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.

  4. Reusable Rockets

    Reusable Rockets

    Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.

  5. Robots That Teach Each Other

    Robots That Teach Each Other

    What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?

  6. DNA App Store

    DNA App Store

    An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.

  7. SolarCity’s Gigafactory

    SolarCity’s Gigafactory

    A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.

  8. Slack

    Slack

    A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.

  9. Tesla Autopilot

    Tesla Autopilot

    The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.

  10. Power from the Air

    Power from the Air

    Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.

Slack

A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.

Availability: now

  • by Lee Gomes
  • The intra-office messaging system known as Slack is often described as the fastest-growing workplace software the world has ever seen. It surpassed two million daily users less than three years after its launch in 2013.

    Slack
    • Breakthrough Easy-to-use communication software that is supplanting e-mail as a method of getting work done.
    • Why It Matters In many kinds of workplaces, the “water cooler” effect that lets people overhear their colleagues’ conversations can enhance productivity.
    • Key Players in Communication Software - Slack
      - Quip
      - Hipchat
      - Microsoft

    Slack gives you a centralized place to communicate with your colleagues through instant messages and in chat rooms, which can reduce the time you have to spend on e-mail. Whether you’re on a mobile device or a desktop computer, you can upload files, get and manipulate information stored in spreadsheets or other business applications, and easily search through past conversations. But many of the core features have been around since the 1990s. And there have been other “Facebook for the office” software packages that resemble Slack and have failed to generate anything close to the same level of enthusiasm.

    This story is part of our March/April 2016 Issue
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    But what, exactly, makes it so popular?

    The reason for its success lies in part with big trends: more and more people now get work done on mobile devices, in collaboration with people who aren’t always in the same office at the same time. But Slack’s specific design choices have also been important. Gerald C. Kane, associate professor of information systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, points out that Slack funnels messages into streams that everyone who works together can see. That “allows you to ‘overhear’ what is going on in an organization, which research has shown can lead to business impact,” he says. “It’s a kind of ambient awareness that you just don’t get from e-mail.”

    Proportion of online time spent on mobile devices in the U.S.

    Kristina Lerman, a specialist in social computing at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, notes that Slack messages tend to be short and casual, much more like the mobile text messages that people are increasingly favoring over e-mail in their personal life. This creates the perception that keeping in touch with coworkers is effortless. “You get the feeling that you are quickly responding to everything that is happening around you,” Lerman says.

    Proportion of U.S. workers who telecommute

    In fact, Slack makes it so easy to create messages that it might end up placing as many demands on people’s time as e-mail traditionally has, albeit with a hip and friendly interface. “There are limits to the amount of time that we have to interact with each other, and Slack doesn’t really cure that,” Lerman says. Software might take some of the friction out of getting work done, but it is still work.

    Estimated average number of e-mails sent and received by business users each day
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