The Slack Channel Effect

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Instead of talking in a big group we split off into separate channels which is somewhat anti-collaboration.

I realized the other day that channels in Slack (or any other group messaging platform) are both good and bad. When there are a small number of rooms it’s easier to find a conversation or to be involved in the majority of discussions. As the number of people in the rooms grows, chats become more noisy. The solution is to create another channel – ideally something subject-specific to filter out the noise. There’s a counter-effect which is somewhat unexpected – it can reduce interaction between members.

Turns out the more channels there are, the less conversations you have exposure to. This sounds stupidly obvious – but it’s not really when you’re so close to the effect. As your channel list grows it’ll reach a critical mass when information overwhelms you. Your only way to fight back is to start leaving channels.

A large room with a lot of activity is easier to mute either by shutting down the chat client or by using a muting feature. Rooms let you segment conversations by topic but then you have less interaction with teammates and less visibility of what is going on overall. The reality is neither method is sustainable. I haven’t quite figured out the solution for a balance between the two.

One thought on “The Slack Channel Effect

  1. Consider that separate channels may by more hyper-collaborative rather than anti-collaborative, and leaving channels that aren’t relevant to you probably helps productivity overall—which is a fine tradeoff, especially if there are other forms of communication in the mix that will help keep you informed, like blog posts! With regard to the many channels of information coming at us in our lives, I think it’s the quality of the communication that matters most.

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