The popular work messaging app adds one of its most-requested features
By Blair Hanley Frank
Slack, the popular work chat app, has launched one of the features that users have been clamoring for over its entire lifetime: threaded messages.
On Wednesday, the company began the process of rolling out the update to all of its users, which will allow them to keep conversations about a particular topic corralled into a single thread. The feature is designed to keep conversations on a particular topic out of the main flow of a chat channel, the company said in a blog post.
Starting a thread just requires users to hover over a message, click the “Start a Thread” button, and type their response. Replies will be grouped into a sidebar thread, and a small link will appear below the original message showing who has replied to a thread and how many replies it has garnered.
Users have been requesting threaded replies for years as a way to help deal with crowded chat channels where multiple conversations are going on at once. Slack allows users in a channel to talk with one another in a single, uninterrupted flow, which means it can be difficult when folks are discussing two or more different topics. This feature should help with that, along with assisting in reducing clutter from ancillary discussions.
Launching threaded replies will also help Slack compete with other messaging services like Microsoft Teams, which has pushed its support for threading replies as a key feature. Microsoft is slated to make Teams generally available next month, and a recent survey of IT professionals showed them optimistic about the tech giant’s chances of competing with Slack.
The threading system is somewhat complicated, once users get down into the nitty-gritty of using it. Conversations in a thread won’t mark the channel that hosts it as unread unless the conversation in the thread mentions the user.
In practice, that likely means it won’t make sense to start a thread for every conversation, just those that don’t apply to everyone in a channel. Some of the applications Slack has found for the feature include discussions of bug reports, and conversations about articles in its public relations channel.
When users determine that their thread reply is worth sharing with the rest of a channel, they can opt to put the reply into the channel that the thread originated from as well. In that case, their message will appear, along with the original message and a link to the thread.
To help users stay on top of the threads they’re following, Slack is also introducing an “All Threads” tab. As the name suggests, it will show users all of the threads that they’ve subscribed to.
The threaded replies feature was a challenging feature for Slack to design. The team built its first prototype threads feature in late 2015, Paul Rosania, Slack’s core product lead, said in a blog post. It took this long to finish it because the company went through several design iterations to reach the one it will roll out to users.
Early developments looked at keeping the replies visible in the flow of the main chat channel, which the team at Slack found didn’t reduce the clutter in a channel.
It will be interesting to see if the focus on a lack of clutter will actually work with what users need the feature to do. The company thus far has been testing it with a limited set of people but is launching the feature to millions of users starting on Wednesday.