Widespread Slack adoption in large enterprises has taken off to such an extent that the messaging platform has had to completely rebuild the innards of its desktop client. Rolling out to users from today, the new client's lower memory consumption and internal efficiencies will make a big impact on some of Slack's biggest power users, says Jaime DeLanghe, Director of Product Management:
For folks this impacts, they're really going to feel it right out of the gate.
As Slack has gradually extended its footprint in larger organizations, some users have found themselves taking part in huge numbers of channels and workspaces. This was not anticipated when Slack got started — features such as Enterprise Grid, which helps organizations manage networks of team workspaces, were only introduced later. Today's makeover, which will take several weeks to roll out to the entire user base, is a case of Slack being the victim of its success at larger enterprises. DeLanghe explains:
The big set of changes that we're making here are really revisiting some of the original assumptions that we made about Slack and how it was meant to work.
The overwhelming scale of our usage and the ways in which people are using Slack — working across multiple workspaces, working inside of Grid, hosting hundreds if not thousands of channels inside of a Slack instance — those are all things that we weren't necessarily anticipating when we first built Slack.
And so this update to the client rebuilds the front end architecture and the actual application that runs Slack on the desktop with those assumptions in mind.
Slack user experience
The makeover includes a rebuild of the front-end architecture, around 50% less memory consumption on average, a third faster startup time, and much quicker launching of voice and video calls from within the app. The rebuild will also help streamline integrations to other applications.
People who use a lot of memory-intensive applications alongside of Slack will likely see an improvement too, says DeLanghe. The performance impact may not have been something they've been aware of, she adds:
People may not even realize it's happening. It's one of those issues that, if you're a highly technically savvy user, you probably understand how much memory your computer is using all the time. But if you're not, you're just going to have a frustrating experience, and you might not understand why.
It's one of these things that we think, regardless of how many customers have talked about it or not, it's a core issue that we think really impacts the Slack experience, particularly [because] we think Slack works best when it's working with all of your other work tools.
The new client architecture follows other recent enhancements to the Slack experience, including improved search launched at its Frontiers conference in April and improvements to caching that make recently used channels available offline.
As I wrote last week, Slack is in the midst of a titanic battle to become the core platform for digital collaboration in the enterprise. Without the existing enterprise presence that other contenders such as Microsoft and Google can count on, Slack's user experience is one of its most important assets in building adoption.
Getting everyone on board the platform is particularly crucial when in-the-moment communication is the platform's most important use case. As Gopi Parampalli, VP of IT at Electronic Arts, noted in a keynote at the Frontiers conference in April, "Adoption is the only thing that matters." Zendesk's Dr Jonathan Brummell made a similar point in an interview on the company's use of Slack: "It becomes mission critical. You have to get everybody in one house."
That being the case, it must have caused some dismay at Slack HQ to realize that driving up adoption across a large enterprise was actually leading the Slack client to start slowing down. The last thing it wants is to have users becoming reluctant to load up the application, or worse, switching it off because it's slowing down the performance of other applications.
While today's makeover may be a testament to Slack's success in penetrating the enterprise market, it also illustrates the need to keep refining the platform's performance as the use cases become more sophisticated. Conquering the enterprise market is never as easy as it looks from the outside.