Update: Slack pushed a big update to Threads! Many of the things originally discussed in this post were addressed, which is awesome! More on that below…

Slack outlined the problem and opportunity best in an introduction to threads blog post a little over a year ago:

When you’re working with your team in Slack, discussions can move quickly and cover a lot of ground. They evolve — and branch off — as people share insights, ask questions, and introduce new topics (or resurface old ones), which may not involve everyone in a channel. Now with Threads, a new way to connect related messages, it’s easier to follow and manage the variety of conversations happening in Slack.

We use Slack a lot at our startup, and even with our small team sometimes the chatter can get to be difficult to manage. Because we have a distributed team, real-time communication is critical. A flurry of distraction and interruptions is one side-effect though. Resolving ourselves to that reality, or going back to email didn’t seem like the right path.

Using threads-by-default might be the solution to distraction-filled Slack chatter we’ve been looking for

Thinking about threads

Using threads-by-default might be the solution to distraction-filled Slack chatter we’ve been looking for. They strike the right balance between real-time and asynchronous communication. Some benefits of the feature include:

  1. When a reply to a thread happens, it doesn’t clutter the channel
  2. Replies attach to the original message, so the context is never lost
  3. Only participants, or people @mentioned get notified of activity within the thread
  4. Threads that you’ve participated in get filed into All Threads, making it easy to keep up with conversations

A couple issues

  1. There’s no way to “move” @mentions within channels into pre-existing threads
  2. You can’t use images to reply to threads. Posting GIFs might be fun, but I’m thinking more about screenshots, etc. 
    ✅ Update: now you can! Slack now allows any file to be posted within a thread, which is huge!

Some things to try…

  1. Communicate with your team that you’d like to try threads by default
  2. Reference important conversations by starring them
  3. Follow messages—you don’t have to respond to a thread to stay in touch
  4. If someone responds as an @mention when it should be a thread, start a thread on the original message and @mention them in a reply there
  5. Threads-by-default isn’t needed everywhere — structure isn’t needed in the watercooler channel

How could threads get better?

It’s been over a year since Slack introduced threads and we haven’t seen much updated since then. Here are a few thoughts on what they could do to improve threads:

  1. Get rid of comments and double down on threads. Comments are still used for images and files. Unlike replies to threads, comments post to the channel which makes for more chatter.
    ✅ Update: They did this!
  2. Allow a thread to be “upgraded” to a post. Posts are a pretty cool, but underutilized feature within Slack. They’ve got rich formatting, and carry greater visual importance than messages. Converting threads to posts could signal a conversation’s importance.
  3. Provide more ways to sift and organize threads. Filtering threads per-channel would help to organize conversations.

Any other ideas? Thoughts? Experiments?

I’m curious if anyone else has had any experience in using Slack threads in a way like described above. If you’ve tried other ways to cool the chatter, I’d love to hear about it. Respond to this post and I’ll promote any cool ideas.

Author

Hi, I'm Matt. I’m a dad, a Midwesterner living on the East Coast, designer, craft beer & coffee lover, remote work evangelist, and GIF enthusiast.