Using Slack as a personal information center.

At this point, we can probably all just admit that Slack wins all the things. It’s an absolutely fantastic tool, with great support and constant updates, and it just seems like it’s headed in all the right directions for almost every kind of user. Sure, there are things we’d all like to see changed (managing teams if you’re on more than a few is still insane), but the consensus is that we love it and it’s great, and I’d agree, so let’s just keep going.

I’ve been making changes to the way I use my devices and think about apps in the past few months, and a large part of that process has been looking at what apps I do use or must use, and don’t want to do without. Put differently, how can I do more with the apps I am using already, as opposed to adding other single-use apps to my devices? Drafts is a good example of this–it’s a single, simple jumping off point for so many text actions and much more on iOS and beyond. Slack has quickly become one of those apps for me–a “must install” on any device. So since it’s always going to be there, I decided to start thinking about it in a new way.

I read Federico’s post on using Slack as a shared notification layer, and how the MacStories team was piping content into their Slack channels to better inform everyone of things at once. It’s a great idea, since everyone is in there anyway–you can really cut down on miscommunication and make sure people are up to date easily. I wondered if it could work in a similar way for a single user. And how effective would it be? Slack provides many super cool integration points to connect to other services and even more interoperation is coming, which is very exciting, and led to me conducting this experiment. I signed up for a new team (sigh) and set it up with a few key channels, just for me.

I think it’s safe to say that notifications are the most obvious way to extend Slack right out of the gate. I set up an #alerts channel, hooked it up to IFTTT and Twitter. So far, I’ve configured:

  • Updates from our local police department about things going on in town
  • Updates from a few select Twitter accounts for things like system status of services I use
  • Weather forecasts (duh)
  • Updates to saved searches on eBay (for classic video game consoles, et. al.)
  • ESPN updates for baseball game start times (not that I ever have the time to sit down and watch a game, but still)
  • Surf height changes past a certain threshold at my preferred spot (yes, we surf in NJ, deal with it)

I also decided to break out a separate channel for Zendesk tickets that might show up. I thought it made sense to get them within Slack as well, but didn’t want them to get lost in a stream of personal stuff.

Of course, notifications can be an issue themselves, so I made sure to only allow Slack to tell me about the stuff I want to know about as it changes. Basically, this #alerts channel is (based on the sources) fairly low-volume despite all the crap I stuffed in there, so it’s not constantly pinging me all day long, which of course is an entirely different discussion about mental attention and prioritizing information delivery. Some other time, perhaps.

Beyond notifications, I’m thinking of other ways to get inventive with pulling data into a single, unified space.

Slack has an RSS integration. Now, if you’re still reading a thousand sites a day in a dedicated reader, this would be a terrible idea for you. But, if like me, you only read a few sites a day, you can give this a spin. I created an #rss channel, added the dozen or so sites I follow into the integration, and was done. I now have a little feed reader built right into Slack, which even tells me when new posts have come in since I last checked it, thanks to the built-in read status feature.

Extending this further, I created a #readlater channel, where I can dump links that I might want to follow up on. Again, if you’re high volume, forget it, but for a handful of things here and there, it’s a neat idea. And this might not necessarily be articles I want to read, but a scratchpad for links that don’t really fit in a traditional read later app, or necessarily need to become an OmniFocus task–stuff I can come back to whenever, with no implicit priority assigned.

Next, I figured I’d try something different. I generally don’t read or follow the news, because in most cases, it just makes me upset for a variety of reasons. But I decided to try a #news channel, with some parameters set within IFTTT actions. I added Entertainment Weekly, Time, NPR, and the New York Times actions with modifiers for how popular any given story might be, or from certain sections of those publications. So it’s not a firehose of all the things those areas publish, but a few links here and there throughout the day. The jury is still out on whether or not I even like this, but it’s working pretty well.

I also added IFTTT actions to this channel for Wikipedia’s article of the day, and Vimeo Staff Picks, just to add a little more variety into the mix. I think if I consider the sources a little more, and choose a few keys sites I don’t read all of, but like little blips from occasionally, this could be pretty fun.

Finally, I created #clipboard which allows me to paste text, images, links, etc. between iOS and the Mac. Again–yes, there are a thousand dedicated clipboard syncing apps, and you can use AirDrop blah blah–you know what? Slack’s always on and it’s fast, and it works.

Since it’s just me posting into all of these channels, and I’m on a free plan, it’ll be a while before I hit the 10,000 message archive limit, which means up until that point, I can also search against my channels to see something historically that I may have added weeks ago and want to return to for any reason. Certainly I can also delete messages as I go, keeping my channels clean each time I return to them, processing them like little inboxes. This may sound like anathema to some of you (another inbox? HERESY) but don’t forget–it’s just you in here. You control the flow of info.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface here. Slack’s hit on something really terrific that so many apps fall short on: make something useful, and make it super fun. If you’re doing anything cool I might like to try with your Slack channels, by all means, let me know.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.