$3.8 billion Slack is making a little change to solve a big problem with its business

Slack April UnderwoodApril UnderwoodApril VP of Product April Underwood

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact.

For instance, when $3.8 billion work chat app Slack announces on Wednesday that it’s adding threaded conversations, it’s not just adding a much-requested feature that makes it easier to keep team conversations on-topic and get things done.

It’s also signalling a move to address its biggest and most common criticisms, as it seeks out larger and more lucrative customers, even as pressure from new competitor Microsoft begins to mount.

While smaller- to medium-sized companies seem to really love Slack (we use it internally at Business Insider to great effect), it tends to create a feeling of information overload when you have lots of people all chatting at once. It’s manageable when you have 10 people on the service talking to you; perhaps less so at 100, or even 1,000 people.

“We have graduated beyond just smaller teams using Slack,” says Slack’s VP of product April Underwood. “As people use Slack more, they run into information overload.” And so, Slack is introducing Slack Threads, designed to help you organise your thoughts and get work done.

What is Slack Threads?

When it comes to Slack Threads, an animated gif is worth a thousand words:

Slack threads

And then, when you’re done, you can paste the results of the conversation back to the main chat room:

Why is Slack betting on Threads?

This may seem like a small, easy-to-add feature, especially given that consumer tools like Twitter and Facebook have boasted something like this for ages. But Underwood says the company has been at work on this feature for the better part of two years.

“It kind of seems like this is a solved problem, but it’s not in the context of work,” Underwood says.

The way that, say, Facebook decides if a conversation is worth your attention is by looking at all kinds of information and reading the tea leaves, basically making an educated guess that you want to see your high school friends’ engagement photo instead of your old roommate’s latest meme-laden political manifesto.

Slack can’t play those kinds of games at work: It’s a chronological timeline of things that people have said in a day, and that’s how it has to be, because you can’t get away with missing an assignment or an important document flying by because an algorithm decided you didn’t see it.

Slack CEO Stewart ButterfieldSlackSlack CEO Stewart Butterfield

And so, Threads “fundamentally change how Slack works” by giving the option of having a sort of meeting-within-a-meeting, says Underwood. Any post on Slack, whether by human or bot, can become the launching point for a Threads conversation. If you post, say, a marketing brochure that needs executive sign-off, you can break it off into a separate conversation, then post the results back to your main Slack channel.

So, yeah. A handy feature to be sure, designed to be unobtrusive — if your team isn’t actively using Threads, you might never know it’s there. But from Underwood’s perspective, it’s a sign of the company’s commitment to tweaking Slack until it gets it right, for teams of all sizes.

“We have the patience to take the time to get it right,” Underwood says. “We have conviction that this is going to be valuable.”

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