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Slack kicks up dust in collaboration software tool market

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Slack is taking aim at traditional communication tools like instant messenger and email. But its integration with other services bespeaks a broader strategy.

Let's face it: Tools for collaboration have often faced an uphill battle.

Workers aren't keen on having a 10th application to open or several hoops to jump through just to complete a task or communicate with a coworker. They've often resisted collaboration software tools because they are too much work and can get in the way of getting "real work" done. That often means reverting to email for most communication needs, which lays the foundation for collaboration software tool failure. Collaboration tools for internal communication have been far less successful than externally facing communities and traditional consumer-based networking tools.

But that situation may change with Slack Technologies Inc. Originally founded in 2009 as a chat tool for a now-defunct gaming technology, Slack is trying to address some of these historic problems. It's designed to make enterprise collaboration easier and more intuitive, with modern interfaces and streamlined functionality, but it's not trying to cover all aspects of collaboration in a single tool. It's no SharePoint, for example -- often referred to as the "Swiss Army knife" of collaboration that tried to do everything in the collaboration space and, hence, does nothing well.

"It's an important leading indicator of some broader market trends, like the emergence of conversational apps," Peter O'Kelly, a collaboration software tool and database consultant at O'Kelly Associates, says. "Slack, the tool, is focused on streamlining team communications, and it's been positioned as an alternative to ... the neverending email overload."

While Slack started out as a communication alternative, it is edging toward the collaboration tool market by integrating with other file-sharing services, such as Box and Dropbox. With its Web-based APIs, "it can integrate with other apps and services," O'Kelly says. "It has proven popular, especially with developers, news agencies and other media organizations in which keeping team members in sync is mission-critical."

But Slack has a way to go to be a more all-encompassing answer to users' problems with traditional tools, not to mention competing in the ample market of collaboration tool providers. While it integrates with other applications, it doesn't provide all-native functionality, and it's still a separate tool.

For more on what Slack needs to do for broader functionality, check out our podcast above.

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