The Blake Archive Northern Division, up here in Rochester, met yesterday with our full complement of new and returning members. More than a dozen people! How did that happen?

Well, it probably happened because we generally smell good, don’t bite, and Morris often regales the group with tales of his culinary adventures. In any event, numbers are up, and quite significantly. And this presents new challenges of coordination and communication. You can probably see where this is going…

The Blake Archive group in Rochester is now on Slack.

For the precious and the innocent of heart, Slack is a “messaging app for teams.” It’s among the more recent group of Silicon Valley darlings, and thus it’s quite trendy. But it’s also pretty useful. It’s currently used in a number of corporate and academic contexts. (Apologies to those who get the shivers seeing those two words next to each other.) NASA’s JPL uses it; The Times [UK] uses it; Harvard uses it; Buzzfeed uses it; you get the picture. I should add that it’s free for small groups. Paid versions include more features and can handle very large groups.

What exactly does it do? Good question. It’s essentially a hopeful replacement for internal email. Instead of sending logistical group emails, like scheduling a meeting or asking a quick question, you type your message into the Slack app, into a “channel” that’s organized by topic. Everyone on the team has central access to the message. So it lives somewhere in between text chats and full email.

You can also share files, and there is Google Drive integration (something we use a lot in Rochester).

Do I sound like a salesperson yet?

The truth is, I’m a little dubious of Slack’s promise for increased productivity and/or organization. Just because I’m slacking a lot, doesn’t mean I’m getting more done. And if one can’t organize an inbox, I don’t see how Slack can overcome one’s own inabilities. I also worry about work/life balance and Slack’s ability to very easily keep group members plugged in 24/7. That’s one corporate influence I still try to resist, albeit usually futilely.

Even with these caveats, however, Slack does have the potential to organize and formalize our group’s collective knowledge base, and to make sub-group knowledge more accessible to other group members. For example, we’re going to organize our “channels” around current editorial projects and common discussion topics. Here’s a screenshot of our Slack:

Screenshot of Slack desktop environment.

You can see our channels on the side: blog, four_zoas, general, letters, marginalia, random, separate_plates, weekly_meeting. You can easily add and archive channels as projects/discussion topics come and go.

Now that our group is larger in numbers and spread out into more discrete projects, we needed a solution to make it easier to both record and share information, progress, questions, etc. We’re hoping Slack is it. At the outlook, it all seems very helpful and hopeful. Organized and archived conversations. What editor wouldn’t want that?

So we’re taking Slack for a test drive this semester. No commitments. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hey, after I publish this, I can share the link on the blog channel.