Slack Reaches for New Frontiers

Slack kicked off its first user conference, Frontiers, yesterday in San Francisco, bringing together fanatics of its popular team collaboration tool to hear the latest product updates and geek out over the evolving concept of teamwork. As CEO and Co-founder Stewart Butterfield said in his opening keynote, Slack sees "enormous opportunities for discovering new frontiers" as it "pushes decision making to the edges of the organization" through team collaboration.

What does it mean to push decision making to the edge? It means enabling workers with the tools they need to collaborate and have the conversations that inject creativity, innovation, and engagement into everything they do around getting work done, Butterfield said.

In a fireside chat, Butterfield sat down to discuss the history of innovation with science author and theorist Steven Johnson, who referenced 17th and 18th century English coffeehouses as social places where people met for conversation and to share ideas. According to Johnson, more organizations today are moving away from the standard conference room, instead working to create spaces more like the coffeehouses of old where multiple meetings and conversations can take place simultaneously. As Butterfield sees it, Slack provides a kind of virtual coffeehouse, a space for casual, fluid interactions that lead to more creativity and more fun in the work environment.

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Moving Beyond Business Walls

No business today functions as an island -- nearly every organization needs to collaborate with others outside their walls. While Slack already provides guest account access, users need to grapple with cumbersome multiple workspace logins, defeating Slack's purpose of having one space "where work happens."

To meet the realities of the way its users work, Slack announced Shared Channels, which allow users at disparate businesses to work together on projects in shared spaces. Shared Channels become part of a user's existing workspace, eliminating the need to log into multiple Slack workspaces. And shared channels aren't just a space for messaging, calling, and document collaboration -- users can take full advantage of the platform and share applications and integrations just as they do internally.

Shared Channels is currently available in beta for paid teams with Slack's Standard and Plus plans, with Enterprise Grid support coming soon, Slack said. Developers can already start building applications for shared channels via the Conversations API.

Delivering Localized Experiences

Up until now, Slack has only been available in English, despite wide use in Europe and Japan. To continue its mission to change work around the globe, Slack yesterday announced the availability of localized versions in French, German, and Spanish, with Japanese coming by the end of the year.

Once a user sets his or her language preference, the product is "localized, from the copy you see in the UI all the way down to the very last emoji," as Slack explained in a blog post. Display names now support international characters, all Help Center documents have been fully translated, and Slack has established dedicated sales and customer experience teams who are fluent in all supported languages. Additionally, Slack now offers international billing.

What's Next for Slack

Throughout the first day of the conference, Slack product managers hinted at functionality that will be coming soon. Paul Rosania, head of core product, shared that users will soon have the option when on a call to allow other participants to control their screens interactively, and said that rich message formatting is on its way. The Slack product development team is also working on improving its offline support to help people continue to work when connectivity is spotty.

For Slack Enterprise Grid, new organization-level app management functionality is coming, where rules and policy can be set across an entire business, Ilan Frank, head of enterprise product, shared. Additionally, Enterprise Grid users can expect to see new channel administration capabilities and custom onboarding guides. And, in addition to Shared Channels, Enterprise Grid users can expect unified workspaces, in development now. These will allow employees to see content from across many workspaces, all in one place. And in line with its expanding global support, Slack will soon offer data residency for customers outside of North America looking for local data storage to meet regulatory requirements.

As Noah Weiss, head of search, learning, and intelligence, told us, the ability to prioritize channels in the sidebar is an upcoming feature, and users should also expect to see search capabilities greatly improve in the coming months, with results delivering more than just messages -- key people, imported files, and more. Further, search will get quicker -- every 10 milliseconds counts! And the development team is also working on building in a "discovery" layer as a "new starting point for you to use Slack." This will allow users insight into the most important channels they're behind on, Weiss said. Expect to see analytics on usage, how "work is flowing," and topics that are trending in the coming months.

Finally, as head of platform Buster Benson detailed, Slack is ramping up its efforts to leverage artificial intelligence and various algorithms to make Slack smarter. Expect to see more actions for apps, richer messaging components, a new app model built around the concept of trial periods, and custom app installations soon.

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