New tech tools show up daily. You’ve probably heard about Slack already as it’s being talked about a lot, but just in case you haven’t I’ll give you the tl;dr: Slack integrates your development and infrastructure notifications, chat and documents from different providers into one chat like interface. It’s pretty much the same as Hipchat. All in all slack is a pretty cool and sleek system which allows for easy chatting within a group. But as I tested the service I kept having a feeling of deja vu. This cool new service feels familiar to me. Then it hit me, I have seen this before, haven’t I?
For a long time many engineers, especially in the Free/open arena, have utilized IRC as a way of communication while working. It’s efficient, simple, client agnostic and supports chat rooms as well as private messages. Slack’s main chat interface is very similar to IRC. It’s a chat room with a list of people present and the ability to send private messages. Just like IRC people post messages to the chat room and everyone in the room is able to read them. In a way it’s a little funny to think about chat rooms being “new” but, then again, people have been using instant messaging and SMS style message systems for so long that the concept of the chat room may seem fresh. So the chat interface is similar to IRC, but what about the integration? Aren’t they new?
With Slack the integrations are set up via the web interface. Each integration can send information to a channel with an icon and message. Obviously IRC does not have this functionality directly, but IRC bots do! Many developers set up bots like Supybot with integration with their external development tools. Announcements of new builds, code pushes, deployments, support requests, etc.. show up in channel from the bot. While it’s not as flashy as Slack the same basic integration idea occurs.
Don’t get me wrong, the point of this post isn’t to say that Slack is dumb or simply a copy of something “better”. The point of this post is that, while Slack isn’t really something brand new, it is quite cool. There is a reason developers and ops folks have been setting up things similar to Slack in their own chat rooms for years! The ability to see the development process actually flow can be pretty exciting and empowering. Those who have or will not be able to set up their own integrations have an option to use Slack as a pre-baked set up which, depending on team/company may be more user friendly for the less technical minded. And letting the non-technical see how much is happening day to day can open their eyes to just how much a team is getting done. Probably way more than they realize.