Slack has more than 6 million users on its team communication platform, but for many people, something that’s increasingly gaining attention is this concept of “Slack overload”. It’s information overload — people have so much flexibility when it comes to chatting with colleagues, be they remote or right next to them, that they are prone to flooding Slack channels with conversation. This leads to distractions and makes it incredibly difficult to figure out what needs to be done.
Different companies have tried to combat this problem in their own ways, such as establishing different channels specifically tailored towards water cooler talk. Slack has acknowledged this issue, claiming that it’ll turn to artificial intelligence as a means to combat overload. There’s no perfect solution out there now and based on the needs of different organizations, the marketplace is open to options. Enter a new app called Begin that’s started by Engadget cofounder Ryan Block. The service launched earlier this week with a promise that it’ll use natural language to identify things you have to get done from your conversations.
Fundamentally, you can probably think of Begin as a task management app that can be installed through Slack (there’s also a standalone Mac app). Some have equated it to being similar to Wunderlist/To-Do, Asana, Todolist, and others, but what might differentiate Begin from its competitors is the integration with the communication layer. None seem to be directly tied into where conversations happen, and often requires users to figure out what the action item is and then jump to another app that they have open on another tab or screen, leaving seconds where they could get distracted and potentially forget what they were supposed to input.
Using Begin is just like with any other Slack bot. The administrator will invite it to any channel and when you want to create a task, simply type in the command prompt “@begin [ENTER TASK HERE]” and it’ll be added to your to-do list. You can schedule tasks as well, all within the command prompt and Begin’s natural language capabilities promises to discern the date and time a particular task should be completed. And you can tag coworkers on tasks too. It seems straightforward and simplistic and should take you seconds to add that task right to your list of things to do around a particular project, be it reviewing a document, providing feedback, doing design work, coding, or whatever it is.
Granted that the company has just launched, it would be fascinating to see if Begin is able to streamline the process as well, using artificial intelligence to determine what should be a task in a conversation without someone needing to manually enter it. Seeing that many companies have their internal communications revolve around Slack, having a way to bring some sense of order around discussions and projects can be helpful. After all, being able to manage all the information that comes at you into different compartments can be critical to ensuring we won’t go mad over not being able to process everything.
Couldn’t Slack simply build this functionality into its platform? Probably, but that’s not something it’ll likely do right away. It’s about doing one thing right, and that’s managing the conversations among team members. If you want capabilities adjacent to chat, then that’s where Slack’s third-party marketplace comes in, and it’s growing, akin to Google’s App Engine. But having a service like Begin could be a benefit to Slack as it looks to feature capabilities that might appeal to enterprise customers. This is a market that is growing increasingly crowded, with the likes of Google, Amazon, Atlassian, Facebook, and Microsoft all jockeying for pole position.
But Begin’s initial problem at this stage is to get the attention of Slack’s 6 million users. Looking at Slack’s marketplace, there are a few productivity apps that are in the same category, like To-Do, Trello, and Asana. Begin’s simplistic nature of doing one thing really well may be appealing to users, but can it break through the noise?