Practical Mac: Although Slack’s messaging service was built for small and medium-sized businesses, I’ve found it to be quite useful for individual and family communications, too.

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Practical Mac

The history of technology is the history of communication. From the printing press to radio to the internet, many of our major technological leaps have been in service of allowing people to communicate faster or easier than before.

Right now, though, communication overwhelms us. It’s not just the constant barrage of news, but all the ways we can talk with other people at work and at home.

When you need to send someone a message, do you occasionally have to pause to recall which method to use — Messages, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Snapchat, email, or a score of others? It’s enough to make one want to use the iPhone as an actual phone and just call them (although you’ll probably have to leave a voicemail message).

At work, this is often compounded by whatever corporate system the company has invested in.

And through all this, a relatively tiny company called Slack has made the kinds of word-of-mouth inroads that pushed Twitter and Facebook into prominence. In just a few months, I went from not knowing what Slack was to having people ask me if I was already on it.

So what is Slack? Imagine Apple’s Messages app, but designed for groups (which Slack refers to as teams), and not specific to Apple hardware or software. Yes, you can chat with multiple people in Messages, but it’s like bumping into a knot of folks in the hallway; I’m often scrolling back through my conversations trying to find the one that has all the people I want to communicate with.

Slack, on the other hand, is like meeting up with people in pre-assigned rooms. You can engage in discussions with everyone in a team, or set up channels (public or private) that focus on specific topics.

For example, I’m a contributing editor to TidBITS, the long-running Mac site and newsletter, and within the TidBITS Slack team are channels for general discussions between the editors, for writing notes and chatting during special events, and even a channel to reference and discuss the style guide. I can send private direct messages to anyone who’s part of the team.

It’s a wonderfully central place to interact with people that doesn’t get lost in email or force me to hunt through my other aforementioned communications apps to find the information I need. And since Slack is all virtual, I can do this on my Mac, my iPhone, or my iPad without missing anything.

As a freelancer, I’ve found Slack has been great for interacting with long-running clients — again, bypassing email, which too often gets lost or marked as junk.

I’ve even found Slack to be a good family communication tool. Since my wife also uses Slack at her work, I created a team just for us to coordinate schedules and occasionally chat while we’re both working. If she’s gotten pulled into a meeting and needs me to take our daughter to an event, Slack is often the easiest way to communicate that during the day.

A lot of this is thanks to Slack’s business model. It’s free with generous limitations (like the ability to search up to 10,000 recent messages per team and 5 GB total file storage). Paying about $7 per month removes the search limitation, doubles the storage, and opens up capabilities like screen sharing. For $12.50 per month, each team member gets 20 GB of storage and Slack guarantees 99.99 percent uptime and prioritizes support requests, among other features. There’s also Slack Enterprise Grid for companies that need even more; pricing requires a call to the company, so it’s no doubt non-trivial.

Although Slack was built for small and medium-sized businesses, I’ve found it to be quite useful for individual and family communications, too.

(My colleague Glenn Fleishman, who originated the Practical Mac column, wrote two excellent guides to Slack, one that covers the basics and one for administrators who want to take advantage of administering Slack.

WWDC on the way. Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is coming up in a few weeks, June 5-9, where we’ll no doubt see previews of the next versions of macOS, iOS and watchOS. Current rumors indicate we may see new laptop refreshes. Apple has recently offered a live stream of the keynote address, so I’ll be watching and reporting on the developments in the next Practical Mac.