Civil War: Slack vs Email (Part 1)

Zoho Mail | November 29, 2016 | 3 min read

He’s rich, he’s got the latest toys and he’s popular. But is he good enough to take down good ol’ Cap’n?

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Just like the pigs in Orwell’s cult-classic book Animal Farm, who promised to liberate the farm animals from the evils of the farmer’s tyranny, only to take the farmer’s place in lording over them, new-age chat-based collaboration tools like Slack promised to end the ”tyranny” that email had (apparently) subjected the world of office collaboration to, but ended up unleashing a tyranny of its own. Meanwhile, email has been silently waiting and watching from the wings.

R.I.P Email (1971 – 201?)

February 2014: Slack is launched publicly. It’s mercurial rise was juxtaposed with the onslaught on email, a relentless smear campaign that led people to believe that email had been (to quote Eminem) ”chewed up, and spit out, and booed off stage.” As the shiny new toys began to capture the fancy of the average office goer, many were only too eager to write email’s obituary(the very question ‘Is email dead?’ has been done to death itself). But deep down inside, email just knew that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ll get to that in a few moments.

“When everyone’s super, No.One.Is”

syndrome-final

said Syndrome in The Incredibles. Every conversation on chat becomes equally important – because there’s no filter. And when that happens, NO conversation is important. Therein, lies the problem with Slack. Chat based collaboration, due to being exclusively real-time, is inadvertently intrusive in nature. Every message is screaming for your attention –  ‘Look at me, I (could be)’m important too!’. Since you cannot prioritize which snippet of conversation to pay attention to, you’re sucked into a vortex where you’re constantly having to check channels out of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

This takes a toll on productivity, leaving you with little to no time to actually ideate in peace and/or get some real work done. Having to stay constantly updated with a dozen conversations across different channels can get quite exhausting. Imagine all the catching-up that’s in store for you, if you’ve been away from your desk for a couple of hours:

bruce postits

So you end up having to play catch-up, non-stop:

bruce

That’s just it, you’re only ever playing catch-up, and no one is really getting anywhere.

The Slack bubble is primed to burst, if it hasn’t already. ”I’m breaking up with you Slack,” wrote Sam Hulick, in February this year, in his piece on Medium. He definitely wasn’t the first, nor would he be the last to decide to call off their little flings. Walt Mossberg, Executive Editor at The Verge, opines that in order to create a sustainable user experience, Slack needs to do quite a bit of catching up itself. But enough of the Slack bashing maybe. Time to look at why email works for you. Why it has for nearly half a century now, and why it will continue to do so.

Active Noise Cancellation

Email, by design, has an inherent filter built into it. To put something down in an email and send it out to people (and have it stay in their inboxes), it had to be sufficiently important. By contrast, chat-based tools simply do away with this filter. The result? The floodgates are thrown open.

Anyone and everyone can jump into a conversation in any of the umpteen channels and flood it with instant messages. Picture this – you were about to make an important point, and someone hijacks the conversation and takes it someplace totally irrelevant. That’s a risk you’ll always run with chat-based collaboration.

With email, you speak because you have something to say. With chat, you speak because you have to say something. Why?Because now you can, and so YOU WILL!

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

There’s not much that has changed with email over nearly half a century of its existence. Which is probably a good thing. Here’s why there’s no need to re-invent the proverbial wheel: Email has context. The two simple constructs, the subject line and the sender, add that crucial element lacking in a chat-based collaboration tool – context. You prioritize which email to read or not, based on the subject line, and/or the sender. You have control over when you read it – like an actual envelope hand-delivered to you, which you can open only when you want to. You get to decide when you want to be appraised of the contents of an email. It is not forced down your throat like a chat/instant message. Even if you’ve been away from your desk for a couple of hours, you can rest assured that at best you would probably have a dozen or so emails sitting in your inbox, that require immediate attention (and like I already said, you decide which ones to read and when). With Slack and the likes, you’re just helplessly spiralling out of control.

The second coming of email (We-told-you-so)

I’m not saying real-time (Slack) bad, asynchronous (email) good – Slack is one extreme of this collaboration spectrum, and it’s just not sustainable, nor scalable. What we really need, is a collaboration tool that manages to establish a healthy middle ground between what Slack and email represent…

Coming soon.

(To be concluded….next week)

 

  1. painfully bright

    Email tyranny? Are you sure it wasn’t mere incompetence? It is widespread in corporate culture. Have a bloated middle management ‘team’? Then you have more employees than needed to do the work, but they don’t want to work.

    Incompetence is tolerated wrongly.

    collaborate with SIP and XMPP: it is the basis of LYNC, and VoLTE most notably.

  2. yuamin

    nice. Thanks zoho

  3. Luana Spinetti

    Slack is for chats and group messages, where it’s cleaner than emails. Email is email, it’s unbeatable when it comes to sharing more confidential information (especially if it can be crypted) in a one-to-one communication.

    I use both, no one replaces the other.

  4. Zack

    There is nothing wrong with email whatsoever. The “problem” is that it’s a system overrun with spam which annoys everybody and is still a top cause of sources of viruses, hack attacks, phishing links, infected attachments etc etc.

    Where chat solves this is that it is a closed system, all members must have user/pass accounts to even be able to join organizations and channels.

    Some services exist which try to bridge this gap between a public email address, and a private chat group. Have you ever tried to email someone and it bounced back with some kind of filter system where they want you to go online and prove you aren’t a spammer first?
    These things greatly reduce spam for the owner of the email address, because it creates a block where typically a real human has to do something. Most spam bots can’t do this verification.
    However, it’s annoying for the person sending the email, because they have to jump through hoops and essentially whitelist themselves for that sender (i.e. create and ‘account’).

    I hope someday there is a system where people can “verify” themselves globally in a way where email systems can trust the email. This way we verify ourselves once, rather than on a per-email basis.
    SPF and Domainkeys only get so far. This just validates that a server is allowed to send an email on behalf of an email address. It’s not even universally used, so systems cannot whole cloth mark as spam every email that doesn’t verify, or we’d have a ton of false positives to deal with.

    A lot of spam is sent via open relays or from email servers that do not accept receiving mail, they only send. Why would a spam server need to receive email? A lot of times they don’t bother. A lot of times they don’t even have valid email addresses at all, and the FROM line is just spoofed anyway.

    If there was a way where people can verify themselves. They would verify it’s a real registered email address, owned by a real person, that sends and receives via a verified email server (SPF/DK), the email servers would be able to trust this email a lot more. it would stop a lot of spam bots, spoofed emails, bad servers, open relays, fake emails that can’t receive, etc etc.

    Anyway, the point is that email doesn’t need to be “fixed” very much, it just needs something to stop the huge spam problem it faces, as well as the proliferation of dangerous emails, like phishing links, and bugged attachments.
    I find that users are “scared” of their own email. They always run to me to find out if something really IS their bank, or some service, or getting a “receipt”, or clicking the tracking code for an order. All fake email.
    If only all valid email addresses could be self-verified to be real accounts owned by real people on real email providers from valid, secure servers, and that it really was sent by that server by that person.
    Think of it like your physical house address. It’s a public address, I can walk down the street and write it down and send you spam. But in this case, if you want to stop spam, then every mail would have a return address. The return address would be verified and then proved that this mail came from this address, addressed to me. And so forth.

    Anyway, email can be greatly enhanced in a lot of good ways, but without addressing the spam and trust issue, and knowing that links and attachments and things are safe, senders are valid, people are who they say they are, all the pathways are verified, secure, etc etc. Without addressing this, email “enhancements” are not that important. It’s like adding a ton of great entertainment gear and stuff in your house but the doors are still unlocked and windows are open.

  5. tim

    chat grape

  6. Prashanth Balasubramanian

    Haha – This is just a marketing piece for emails.. ultimately slack and more whatsapp has changed the way communication happens.. if the biggest feeling is playing catch up to conversations that you missed – it is no different for that kind of person with emails :D.. what would be good to see if how can you bring that kind of interaction in the email tools.. but that is probably a whole different analysis on its own 😀

  7. Cannot give email because of spam, :)

    Quite contrary in Slack you can have #random channel, where people chat about non important things and dozen of per project channels where they talk about serious business. You can even setup Slack not to get notified from unimportant channels. Actually filtering is something that’s possible in Slack and not Email not other way around. This post is really ridiculous.
    And when we are at filtering, I am getting TONS of Spam in my ZOHO inbox and I could read a book in last week only instead of reading spam. And yes I am FILTERING those spams and it is becoming full time job. There is simply no spam in Slack. Only reason I am using email is for people who are out of our office, and I hope something else like slack will be invented to replace even that form of email.
    Email is obsolete technology and fact that even something as trivial as spam cant be avoided with it tells us a lot. Not to mention that any kid can inject whatever he wants in sender/recipient fields and email protocol has no way to prevent it is ridiculous.
    When emal 2.0 is invented, the one which can prevent spam by charging small sum per email then it will be ok. It will probably never happen because big players in the industry like to send spam too :). Looking forward for global Slack.

  8. Vijay Venkatasubramani

    It’s not war, they complement each other.

    • Ranjit Notani

      Asynchronous communications like email and synchronous communications like chat/Slack are definitely complementary.

      Email has many great aspects and many not-so-great aspects. We believe upto 5x productivity over email is possible in many situations.

  9. Michael Buluma

    Good perspective!!

  10. Takari

    I have had enough beeping bells, flashing lights, and the constant onslaught of digital alarms and doodads that were supposed to make our lives easier. More often, they only add another dozen things I need to keep track of each and every day. Like work e-mail on my phone. Oh, yay. Now I get to NEVER leave work.

    ‘Chat’, by its very definition, is to have a light conversation with someone, often meaningless, but friendly. The last thing I need is another conversation at my desk with five deadlines due in two hours. It’s not even humane to expect people to deal with that kind of near-constant distraction.

    On the other hand, e-mail is civilised. It’s closer to the pace of humanity. It encourages people, at least a little, to actually learn how to write. It waits patiently until you have time to approach it. It gives hints, in subject and importance rating, whether it might be time-sensitive. It allows you to decide, priortise, and generally conduct yourself and your work in an efficient manner.

    No one will ever sell me on Slack. And, what an appropriate name. >.>

    • Renjith Pillai

      That last statement is like, no one is ever going to sell me a MobilePhone/Smartphone/Facebook/WhatApp because I love my wired phone.

  11. az

    actually 1) your title is misleading: title should be Slack vs ZohoMail or Messaging vs Mailing 2) sucks both, but ZohoMail – more (configuration – pain in the ass; syncing/forwarding – pain in the ass; gui – pain in the ass; etc. – pain in the ass)

  12. Jacob Kauffmann

    First of all, having separate channels in Slack (and Slack-like chat systems) provides a perfectly functioning filter of importance. You don’t need to check the “miscellaneous chat” channel, but you do need to check the “important project” channel. Compare that to email, where you only have ONE inbox per account, unless you trust a computer to sort through your mail for you (which I don’t.) Slack lets the users control which “inbox” messages get sent to, and it’s made for people mature enough to handle that responsibility.

    Secondly, having your article titled “Slack vs Email” like you’re actually going to make a fair comparison, and then writing an article where the entire premise is “your ADHD is so bad that Slack is complete garbage,” is misleading (and unprofessional.) The title of the article should reflect what you actually say in it, and in this case it should be “Why this insecure company wants you to stop using Slack.”

    Can’t wait to see what “miracle product” you unveil next week. It better be something really innovative to justify sending all of your users a pop-up ad for this article.

  13. Old Buck

    Good points. Kinda reminds me of corporate ‘meetings’ when I was not retired…most were not very productive and all needed a moderator. Usually a total waste of time.

  14. Haseeb Ayazi

    Marvelous piece of writing, but try to email it next time, don’t pop up like slack. Waiting for its second part…

  15. Chris

    While appreciate the creativity of your post, it’s so long winded that I lost interest. People are time poor, get to the point and provide links to background information for those that have nothing better do with their time. I skimmed the article and frankly your point is still unclear to me.

    • Cristi

      Hah, the same. They just complement each other, it’s a waste of time to compare them.

  16. Amar

    Good post, looking forward to part II. I used Slack for a couple of weeks earlier this year but moved back to email because it was easy to filter the ‘noise’. AS our team is building up, we might move to a mixed mode: email for external and chat for internal communication. Is email dead? I think other applications are slowly catching up with email-like features, just this morning I set up a reminder for a meeting using Facebook messenger (a feature that I did not know existed).

  17. Eric Zheng

    excellent!

  18. J Dub

    This would be easier to read without all the damn gifs, what is this, a slack channel?

  19. John Smith

    Interesting article. Email is still very important, but what is ironic about this posting is that ZOHO is making noise about the second coming of email, while its web based email management tool is quite possibly one of the worst on the free email market. Even that god awful Yahoo NEO system works better than the ZOHO web interface.

    The list management aspect of the Inbox is AWFUL. The Trifold method of managing emails is absolutely the worst layout that could possibly be adopted. Unless you using a foot wide monitor the interface will drive you absolutely crazy. Managing folder list is excruciating, especially in terms of searching and moving emails around.

    The lack of a collapsible option for the Inbox list of folders is just plain bad UI design. When browsing the inbox we do not need to have the Inbox folder list displayed at all. And why are my messages automatically displayed. I would prefer to click on a message and have a nice page popup with a nice wide window for the message. Limiting the screen space to about a 1/3rd of the screen is totally useless.

    While browsing the Inbox, when new email comes in, you have to refresh the page to get that email to show up. Lame.

    Don’t get me started on the search interface, it drives you bonkers trying to get a complete list without having to go through refinement over and over and over.

    There is a ton of room for improvement of the mobile version as well. And I might upgrade to a paid version of the interface if anywhere in the main ZOHO website there was an adequate explanation of the benefits of paying a monthly fee for the service.

    After all these years of free ZOHO you think at some point a few dollars would be spent fixing this beast of an interface…

    Especially when your blasting Slack…

    • mike pretorius

      Different strokes I suppose…..on the other hand I have found ZOHO to be the best email ever, been using it for years now.

    • Alan

      Thanks. I thought it was just my lack of familiarity with ZOHO that resulted in my gnashing my teeth. I came here from Gmail, in order to reduce the intrusion, but the culture shock is stunning. I have yet to figure out the trick to adding an event in calendar that will actually save the correct date and time. Having said that, I am in total agreement with the gist of the article. I participate in a 12 step program, and am in contact with 10-15 co-participants. When I get a text from them, I have to check it, even though 98% of the time it is someone sending a joke, photo, pithy saying, or something else as comparatively inane. And then the replies begin….Many is the time when I have just silenced my phone because I work in a close office environment. When I was with Verizon, I could have texts sent to an app on my tablet or PC, allowing me to glance at them, a la email. My current provider and phone do not allow this. If Zoho is coming up with something like what I used to have with Verizon, I am excited.

  20. ebrind

    Its all about workflow and all these closed systems out today are not helping! You are never going to get everyone on the same system to collaborate so the company that can take the technology we have today and open it up to anyone on any platform is going to win.

  21. Vint

    My business is small and as such we need things to work, I know what slack is but have never used it so I only have an opinion on email and using sms and msm for communication needs. In the renovation business we have customers contact us both ways, around our small office we use Hangouts on the browser and on our phones. We use email 90% of the time with customers and each other for the reasons stated above we try to stay away from social apps when doing so. I am not a good example but email is king for us, Zoho fits a need for web mail at the moment until something better comes along.

    • Omiete Charles-Davies

      Please try slack out. My team is remote. We do not work from offices. Slack helps us communicate in real time, share files, and chat personally or in groups. The interface is also sleek.

  22. Andrea Raquel

    This is soooo clever and to be continued because clearly Zoho email with it’s stream is planning to fill that void. Very very clever indeed!

  23. Shawn

    I’m obviously not part of the “in” crowd as I have never heard or Slack, heard friends talk about it, or see any real need for it in my life or small office based on what I just read. It sounds like just another communication tool with limitations of it’s own like they all have.

  24. Christos

    Not sure why some of the comments for this post were so unkind to the author and described the banner linking to the post as invasive.

    I would agree, in general, that writing should be concise in order to not lose folks with short attention spans though.

  25. Alejandro

    Chat can never replace email. It’s meant only to complement it.

  26. Richard Benchimol

    Thanks for the information. I have never used Slack, after this, not sure I ever will. I do use Outlook and Gmail. The Focus/Other update for Outlook has been a big help to me. No need to even scroll to delete things that are just “flyers”, that has been taken care of for me.
    Richard Benchimol

  27. John

    This is a whirlwind blog of pop-culture references, which confuses the idea it is trying to convey…
    I write emails to share an idea or information that is directed to a specific person or group of people. Is “chatting” or “texting ” that information as useful as within the email platform? I would think that to be dependent on the subject, and personal preference.
    Will one form of communication “win out” over the other? I do not believe so. The chat environment, although allowing quick interaction and brainstorming, tends to reduce the thoughtfulness of the conversation. Emails require a little more focus, which can help provide a more holistic conversation. Some of us still write letters sent through snail mail, because that medium adds an additional level of personal connection.
    I think it is important for us to learn what conversations are appropriate for the chosen medium. I have no desire to “chat” endlessly about the plans we are trying to accomplish.
    “Buy Milk”…”what kind?”…”2%” is an appropriate conversation for the text or chat format.
    If it needs to go beyond that…just call the person.
    “Here is a list of items I need answered”…may be more appropriate for email.
    “Please sign this important document”…may be better in (physical) writing.
    Overall, I think that another tool for communication is fine, but it is important that we all learn to use the various tools appropriately.

  28. Alice

    This is surprisingly true. Even if I have a coworker’s slack channel, I prefer to email them when it is in regards to work collaboration. The only exception is when I urgently need a reply- many people check their email once a day at most. Some workplaces only use email however, which drives me nuts. Like the article said, there are pros and cons to both…

    • ebrind

      I agree… Some how we need to make collaboration fun! Get things done! How much time is wasted on Facebook, Twitter, LikedIn and so on. Think of this… When you really need to get ahold someone what do you do today? You call them on the phone. Then you text them and as a last resort you email them. The funny thing is you know they are getting your messages! We have to collaborate the way all these closed networks collaborate with our employees and customers.

  29. Luke

    Slack/chat and email are complimentary services — they are both beneficial when used properly. Slack works great as a real-time chat when you have a clearly-defined team of people. Email is great for asynchronous communication — but not so great when you have a team of people that need to communicated in real-time. Email won’t disappear anytime soon and neither will chat-based communication like Slack. Personally, I use a variety of communication services in my daily life:
    • SMS/iMessage/Facebook Messenger – Personal communication with friends and family.
    • Slack – Team chat for my business. All employees use this for work-related communication.
    • Email – Client communication and other asynchronous communication (support requests, newsletters, payment receipts, etc.).

  30. Vijai Kumar S

    Slack / Slack alikes like Gitter will most certainly be the best tools for internal communication. Especially for the small business market. I am a software dev in a small company and exploited the slack’s bot api for pretty much automating everything in our office. Slack is a gateway to productivity. I don’t think email has much use on the longer run for communication within a company…

  31. Neb

    Can’t wait to see what You’ll guys come up with. 😀

  32. Francis Shennan

    By writing overblown, poorly written and edited pieces like this you are making worse a problem you claim to be addressing.
    Learn to write clearly and concisely or don’t waste our time with it.
    Frank Shennan, award-winning journalist, writer and lecturer.

    • ebrind

      Really! You need to check your own posts…

      Quoted By You:
      “you are making worse a problem you claim to be addressing.”

      This is his blog! Freedom of speech and all that. He took the time to share his opinion so give him the courtesy of giving him yours related to the topic or just let him speak!

  33. Ben

    This post is too useless and pointless for you to have it linked to an invasive banner in my mail account.

    • Francis Shennan

      I agree wholeheartedly with Ben. It should not have been linked to a banner on the mail account. Otherwise Naveneeth could indulge in his marketing drivel to his heart’s content.

    • Matt Parr

      agreed

    • John

      Agreed. and worse still…after I read it and contributed my “two cents”, the banner remains at the top of my Zoho page.

      • Navaneeth Suresh

        Hi John, there’s a button at the very end of the banner that says ‘Don’t show this again’. You can make the banner disappear for good if it’s getting in your way too much. Hope this helps.

    • painfully bright

      It’s your fault for failing to adblock third party loads. Privacy is a right; it has obligations.

  34. UN Cloud IT

    Great writing!

  35. Ariel Segall

    Like any other corporate IT implementation, Technology without culture and procedures will get you nowhere . So just like you learn when to CC or BCC someone when sending a VIP email – Slack users will soon learn the rules of engagement for replying, mentioning and following conversations. It’s just a matter of time . But certainly , you can expect to get a faster response from a millennial staff member by chatting instead of emailing .

    • AndriuZ

      +100 … absolutely!