Unicorn Bots: Slack for fun and profit

I am a big fan of Slack. It is tough to live up to the hype, and even if you don’t use email it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do messy collaborative work.

It has become an indispensable tool for plenty of companies (with 2M daily actives) and it can cut through silos in an organization, if the channels are setup correctly. In a world of complex matrix organizations it helps to be able to get past the hierarchies and work across teams. With a tool like Slack you can not be chatting with: your peers (@group-managers), folks who do what you do (#engineering), your team (@team-ndomorph), folks who work on your platform (#ios), and also shared interests (#birdwatching). Cross-cutting for fun and profit.

I am very interested to see how the businesses who build on Slack do, as they ramp up a fund and support systems.

There is often a land grab when a new platform is born. Folks want to jump in, wire something up on the new platform, and be the first app to do something useful in the space. Doing this is more akin to jumping on a new domain name when a new top level is born. The good ones re-think the experience with the context of the new platform, but how many large companies are built like this?

It is easy to get lost on the new platform and not think about the core unique service that you are offering. Building a bot that sits on slack and routes to Netflix APIs isn’t a business.

There is much talk about “messaging as the new operating system” and I am curious how it fits into the greater landscape. We used to have desktop computers, with the Web connecting us in fantastic ways. Then mobile happened, and now we have voice (ambient and improving), VR, wearables and good ole IoT at various stages of hype and adoption.

At the same time we have capabilities opening up on the backend via machine learning. This is where I get excited. Messaging and voice are inputs into a smarter backend that can understand me more precisely over time, and it gets smarter with its answers.

When thinking of a problem to solve these days, I try to think about the variety of input and output methods available and I find the best fit for the problem. Don’t just think of building a slack bot, think about all of the ways your users could interact with you, and then spend the lions share on how to create that unique service that will make them feel badass.

If you look at the great Internet companies, they have phenomenal engineering that allows them to create value for the long term, way past the fad of a new input method. That being said, you should seriously consider how your users should be able to interact with you. For many of your services, a slack bot may be in order. I love how messaging and voice interfaces can cut through to the point like nothing else.

I can’t wait to see what people come with next.

ps. What about HipChat, or other chat services? That’s the beauty of thinking more broadly. Why wouldn’t you want users who are on HipChat to get access to your chat interface too? One of the advantages of HipChat is that the entire company isn’t focused on chat, and this allows them to be great in that area without all things collaboration to have to be chat first. When you have a hammer…..

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