Slack Posts New Functionality

Slack is widely acknowledged as the enterprise real-time messaging (work chat) tool with the most traction, having passed the million daily user mark in June. It seems that the company is not content to stay boxed into the work chat category, however. Yesterday, Slack announced and released Posts 2.0, a feature that enables the rich authoring of blog posts and publishing them to targeted collections of people.
Since its launch, Slack has had this feature, called Posts, that lets people write content that far exceeds the length of a normal chat message. However, it was so clunky that few people used it, if they were aware of it at all. To create a Post, one was sent out of the Slack application to a web browser, where text was written using a very simple editor and then saved back to Slack as an entry in the conversation stream of a specific channel or group.
The new Posts 2.0 includes an inline text editor, which improves the experience in two ways. First, it keeps users inside the Slack app. Second, it lets them create rich text with formatting styles like headlines, bulleted lists and checkboxes. Beyond that, the new editor also acts on embedded URLs by automatically displaying graphics, showing previews of websites and expanding tweets.
Once written, Posts can still be shared with specific individuals, channels and groups, whose members can comment directly on the entry (as opposed to creating an chronologically-ordered entry in the Slack conversation stream). This is one of two places in Slack where properly threaded discussions are possible; Files is the other.
There is another important new feature in Posts 2.0 – the ability to save and access Posts in the Files section of the Slack application. So rather than having to scroll through or search the Slack conversation stream to view a specific Post again, it can be easily found in the Files repository. Additionally, if an author stars a Post in the editor or a reader does so in the conversation stream, it will show up in Slack’s Starred Items list. 

Cool, But Do Businesses Need This? 

With Posts 2.0, Slack has complemented existing features with new ones that, in combination, begin to move the application beyond being primarily a work chat tool. Slack has now effectively become a lightweight Web Content Management System that enables blogging (to a targeted audience), file storage and sharing and threaded discussion (around Posts and documents stored in Files only). It’s a lightweight people directory with profiles too. Oh, and it’s still a communication and collaboration tool.
This expansion of mission is fine, but it immediately raises the question that I previously asked and continue to pose about Slack. Why? Do work teams really need an alternative to existing corporate communication and information management applications that already satisfy the same use cases that Slack is addressing? How is Slack better than the status update, IM, blogging, file sharing, and discussion tools for communities (groups) that are bundled in the enterprise social software applications and platforms that organizations have already licensed and deployed?
In addition to the functional redundancy, one also wonders if Slack will ultimately lose its audience by becoming the opposite of what it was originally. The application’s strong initial appeal was the simplicity of its user experience. By adding more communication and collaboration features, Slack risks becoming a complex mess of functionality that few will care to use, especially on mobile devices.
On the other hand, Slack may intentionally de-emphasize its application in the future, positioning and going to market as a platform on which developers can create their own apps. We’ll see. Many already refer to Slack as a messaging-centric platform. Time will tell if that is indeed their market strategy for the long-haul, but, for now, Slack is beginning to look like yet another bloated application.

Why doesn’t the WhatsApp web browser version work for iOS users?

The popular international messaging app WhatsApp has unveiled a web browser-based version of its service. In a blog post, the company announced that millions of WhatsApp users will now be able to chat on browsers (and their computers!) instead of just their mobile apps.

“Millions of” being the operative word. Millions of users aren’t “all users.” According to the logos on the desktop client homepage, the web application is only compatible with WhatsApp user accounts from Android, Windows and weirdly enough, Blackberry. A WhatsApp spokesperson later told me that Nokia S60 is also in the list.

For now iPhone owners won’t have access to WhatsApp’s desktop client. The spokesperson said it’s not available on iOS because “Apple has no background multi-tasking and no proper push technology.  So it is a bad user experience on iOS.” WhatsApp told The Verge that an iOS compatible version is coming, but “the timeframe is unclear.”

Furthermore, it looks like WhatsApp’s desktop web browser version only works on Google Chrome. When I attempted to access it from Safari, I received this message:

whatsapp message

WhatsApp told me that Google Chrome’s push notification system is ideal for the product, which is why the company picked it. It seems strange for an app with all the power of Facebook behind it to release its web browser before it’s compatible with iPhone and Safari.

WhatsApp told me, “It is a bad user experience on iOS and won’t get better until Apple addresses those [previously mentioned] things. So we didn’t want to keep this from other users to wait for Apple.”

Fortunately for the company, the app’s audience is largely international, and Android dominates the international market by far. Perhaps there aren’t too many core users left out from the development.


This story has been updated with information from a WhatsApp spokesperson.

Web report: Online surveillance and censorship are getting worse

Mass online surveillance and censorship of what people see on the web appear to be getting worse, according to the latest Web Index report from Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation. These trends, along with the paucity of net neutrality rules around the world, have led the web inventor to call for the internet to be made a basic human right.

“That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of web users regardless of where they live,” Berners-Lee said in a statement. “In an increasingly unequal world, the web can be a great leveller — but only if we hardwire the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, affordable access and net neutrality into the rules of the game.”

The Web Index aims to quantify the web’s impact on countries’ social, economic and political progress. Produced annually since 2012, the index provides rankings that, over time, make it easier to spot trends. This year, the trends aren’t looking so hot. In 2013, the foundation’s researchers found that 63 percent of the 86 countries listed in the index had privacy safeguards that were weak to non-existent. A year on, that figure has risen to 83 percent.

According to the report, the rise is partly because revelations about mass surveillance programs and their associated legal regimes have taught us more than we knew before about what’s actually going on. “However, there is also evidence that due process safeguards for citizens are being progressively dismantled,” the report stated, “even as the capability and appetite of governments to spy on us is expanding.”

It continued:

The companies that report on government demands for user data have documented worldwide increases in such orders — between January–June 2013 and January–June 2014, [company]Twitter[/company] reported a 78% increase; [company]Google[/company], a 14% increase; and [company]Facebook[/company], a 30% increase. [company]Microsoft[/company] reported 30% growth in the number of accounts affected by secret US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests between 2011 and 2013, while Yahoo said it was “troubled” by a 67% increase in accounts subject to FISA orders between the first and last half of 2013.

The report noted that many countries don’t allow disclosure of statistics about interception warrants and metadata access, including the U.K., Germany, India, South Africa, Turkey, the Netherlands and Ireland. It also highlighted several new laws that actually expand state surveillance and weaken privacy safeguards, including DRIPA in the U.K., France’s real-time web spying law, and laws in Australia and South Africa.

Meanwhile, new censorship drives in countries such as Turkey have seen the percentage of the 86 countries found to be “blocking politically or socially sensitive web content to a moderate or extreme degree” had gone up from 30 to 38, year-on-year.

Handily, the foundation has provided an interactive map demonstrating the severity of online surveillance and censorship around the world:

[protected-iframe id=”287d79ed95d521fa524525f04870fd3a-14960843-16988840″ info=”” width=”800″ height=”600″]

The 2014 Web Index provided other findings as well:

  • In three out of five countries surveyed, the web and social media had a significant effect on citizen action.
  • Only a quarter or so of the countries have clear net neutrality rules or rules against political discrimination in internet traffic management.
  • In around three-quarters of the countries, there is a failure to tackle online gender-based violence.
  • 4.3 billion people – almost 60 percent of the world’s population – cannot get online at all, and over 1.8 billion “face severe violations of their rights to privacy and freedom of expression when they go online.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week Berners-Lee said Europe’s right to be de-linked “seems to be dangerous” at the moment. He said it was right that false information should be deleted, but accurate information should remain untouched because of free-speech and history-related reasons.

Most Russians still favor web censorship, but those attitudes are changing

A majority of Russians supports the censorship of the internet, according to a poll carried out late September and published this week by the independent Levada Center (as spotted by the Moscow Times). The research outfit found that 54 percent of the 1,630 respondents, spread across Russia, agreed that there was a need for web censorship. However, that was down from 63 percent a couple years before – and the percentage of respondents opposed to online censorship was up from 19 to 31. Unsurprisingly, those in favor of online censorship were more likely to be people who don’t use the internet, like a third of Russians. A recent law allows Russian authorities to censor the output of bloggers as they do with broadcast journalists.