Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

The market for workplace collaboration software has been growing steadily more competitive over the past year, with tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook moving into the space formerly dominated by the startup Slack. Last week, Atlassian unveiled its new platform called Stride, which integrates with the company’s other enterprise technology offerings and aims specifically at meeting users’ needs in areas where Slack falls short. Both Slack and Microsoft made announcements about their products this week that show they are well aware of the heightening competition and prepared to respond.

On Monday, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, Microsoft released a new feature on its Teams product called Guest Access, which gives organizations “a way to bring in freelancers or consultants on a project and show them everything they need to know, and nothing more”:

Larry Waldman, a program manager for Teams, told GeekWire that guest access has been among the most frequent and long-standing requests from customers. “We knew we needed it because people in companies work with folks outside their companies very regularly,” Waldman said. “That’s something we heard feedback on even as we were developing Teams.”

Microsoft also announced that Teams is now being used by 125,000 organizations, more than double the 50,000 who were using it when it launched globally in March.

Not to be outdone, Slack put out an announcement of its own the next day at its Frontiers conference in San Francisco, Levy’s colleague Monica Nickelsburg adds. The company revealed that it had grown to 9 million weekly active users in more than 100 countries, including 50,000 paid teams, and 2 million paid users, generating $200 million in annual recurring revenue. Slack also unveiled a feature that enables ongoing collaboration between multiple organizations:

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Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

The software company Atlassian, already a major player in the enterprise technology game with its applications like Jira, Confluence, and HipChat, has released a new collaboration platform for employees and teams called Stride, to compete with existing products like Slack. Kerry Flynn at Mashable describes Stride as “all about taking action”:

It cuts down on notifications by letting users put themselves in a “Focus Mode,” and it makes it super simple to switch from text to video. The design is mobile-friendly and easy to use, not unlike its competitor Slack. But it offers features that make it arguably a better product than Slack for actually getting work done. …

One of the core features is letting users set themselves as away. That feature is available in competitors, such as Slack’s emoji statuses, but Stride allows users to actually mute specific channels, share what they’re working on, and more easily catchup once they’re done. … Any room in Stride can start a meeting and allow any user to join in via audio or video. It eliminates the need to move to Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, or another third-party video system and can encourage people to switch to video more often.

Steve Goldsmith, general manager for Stride at Atlassian, tells GeekWire reporter Tom Krazit that Stride is integrated with Atlassian’s other software products and will be available in both free and paid tiers with different features:

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Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Catch Me on Slack?

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Catch Me on Slack?

We’ve heard of online dating sites like eHarmony applying their matchmaking algorithms to job searches, but one dating app, Feeld has charted a different course in blending romance and work with a bot that essentially turns Slack into a matchmaking service. Leah Fessler at Quartz raises her eyebrows at what most HR professionals would agree is a very bad idea:

To use the bot, a designated administrator at a company must first choose to install the app. But once it’s downloaded, anyone on your Slack team can direct message @Feeld and enter the name of their crush. If the feeling is mutual, both of you get a notification; if not, no one’s the wiser.

The bot “does not constitute a partnership, official relationship, or endorsement from Slack,” Fessler notes—nor should it, as Feeld’s effort to enable romance in the workplace would likely lead to problems:

It’s one thing to acknowledge that workplace romances sometimes happen. (My own parents met at work.) But it’s quite another for a company to actively seek to facilitate them. …

Employees who share romantic interest in one another should be able to, as Feeld suggests, “embrace feelings” in appropriate, respectful, and consensual ways outside of the office. But when a dating app exists on what is essentially a workplace platform, any employers that deign to use it are sexualizing what is supposed to be a safe, professional space. That’s sure to make many employees uncomfortable, even if they opt out.

David Lumb at Engadget agrees, worrying that installing Feeld would disrupt the “sometimes-tenuous neutrality of a workspace”:

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Chat Wars Rage on as Google Launches New Hangout Apps, Microsoft Goes Global with Teams

Chat Wars Rage on as Google Launches New Hangout Apps, Microsoft Goes Global with Teams

The battle for dominance of the workplace communications technology market is shaping up to be a key trend in the tech space this year: We saw the launch of Slack’s Enterprise Grid version of its signature work-chat product for large organizations this January, the emergence of Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace as major competitors to Slack in late 2016, and now, Recode’s Tess Townsend notes, Google is getting in the game as well with a set of new workplace tools in its G Suite enterprise offering, dividing the existing Hangouts app into Hangouts Meet, a video chat program, and Hangouts Chat—which Townsend notes “looks a lot like Slack”:

Hangouts Chat is part of Google’s newest push to sell its office tools to big businesses as part of its bigger aim to take on Microsoft Office. Verizon recently switched from Office to G Suite. And the update to Hangouts Chat appears to be designed to compete with Slack. The feature will be available to G Suite customers who apply for access. The new app allows users to create virtual rooms (much like on Slack) where they can hold group conversations, and to break conversations off into threads.

Chat also includes a new bot for automatically scheduling meetings: When called up, @meet will compare Google Calendar schedules of chat participants to automatically pick an open time.

A Google executive tells Townsend that these new tools are not envisioned as a challenge to Slack, which itself already integrates with Google Drive. Nonetheless, Google has already been focusing its energies on developing chatbots and other tools powered by artificial intelligence, which also happens to be the focus of Slack’s long-term growth strategy. Indeed, the ability to integrate bots is a central feature of Google’s new product, Ken Yeung of VentureBeat observes:

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Can Slack Go Corporate?

Can Slack Go Corporate?

At the end of January, Slack released Enterprise Grid, a much-anticipated version of its signature group chat program designed to suit the needs of large organizations. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lundgren checks out the specs on the wunderkind tech startup’s competitor to Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook, which “comes with a range of features that are essentially table stakes in the enterprise software market”:

IT administrators are now be able to manage and provision multiple large teams; and, in addition to the encryption that Slack already offers, add in new layers of security and identity management (integrating with Okta, OneLogin, Ping Identity/Federate, MSFT Azure, Bitium, LastPass, Centrify, Clearlogin and Auth0); set new security and compliance controls; and new HIPAA & FINRA compliance and data loss prevention integration (working withPaloAlto Networks, Bloomberg Vault, Skyhigh, Netskope, Relativity by KCura and Smarsh, among others).

Along with this, Slack is also adding in new partnership with SAP where the enterprise services company is building a portfolio of bots to integrate with SAP services. The first three will be a Concur travel and expense bot; a SuccessFactors performance management bot; and a bot to interact with the HANA Cloud platform. This expands on the kids of relationships Slack already has in place with other B2B businesses like Salesforce and Google Cloud, and it looks like these SAP bots will work across all of Slack, rather than just for users of Enterprise Grid.

Lundgren’s colleague Ron Miller calls the new enterprise offering “the next logical step for Slack”:

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A Slack that Keeps Your Secrets

A Slack that Keeps Your Secrets

The market for workplace collaboration software has heated up in recent months, with Facebook and Microsoft launching enterprise communication services and putting competitive pressure on Slack. On Tuesday, Andy Greenberg at Wired marked the entry of another competitor into this space, whose main selling point is total privacy. Programs like Slack and Hipchat, Greenberg explains, store users’ communications in a way that leaves them “potentially vulnerable to government surveillance, hacking, or a subpoena in a run-of-the-mill lawsuit”:

The encrypted-messaging startup Wickr wants to solve that potential Slack-snooping problem. Today it’s launching Wickr Professional, software it hopes will be the most workable combination yet of Slack’s chatroom-based messaging, the privacy of encryption, and the ephemerality of Snapchat-style self-destructing messages.

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Microsoft Teams Emerges as Slack’s Latest Competitor

Microsoft Teams Emerges as Slack’s Latest Competitor

‘Tis the season for launching new workplace communication platforms. Back in September, Microsoft revealed that it was developing a competitor with Slack, and earlier this month, Facebook rolled out Workplace, the highly anticipated enterprise version of its social media platform. On Wednesday, Microsoft officially launched its new product, Microsoft Teams, GeekWire reports:

Microsoft Teams is a threaded chat tool that uses channels in much the same way that Slack does. Executives are showing the tool for the first time this morning at the event in New York City, available via webcast. The company says Microsoft Teams will be available as a customer preview in 180 different countries. It will be included in enterprise and small business versions of the Office 365 subscription service. General availability is scheduled for the first quarter of the 2017 calendar year.

Microsoft Teams looks like a cross between Slack and Facebook, with collaborative tools that allow people to work on documents together within threads, and the ability to build and upload memes and emojis to customize the app to match the vibe of the team. Skype is deeply integrated into teams, allowing a quick transition from chat to voice and video conferences. Microsoft Teams is also works with third party services like Twitter and GitHub, allowing for notifications and updates within the app. As part of the event, Microsoft announced a developer’s preview of Teams to allow companies to integrate it into their own technology. Microsoft says Teams will be integrated with more than 150 partners when it becomes generally available next year.

At TechCrunch, Brian Heater gives the platform a positive review, saying the user interface is clean and easy to navigate:

The app does a pretty good job organizing a lot of content at once – though a company rep admitted that developers held back some functionality, in an attempt to keep things lightweight, notably things like private meetings, though there are some workarounds for that, which we’ll go into later. Also, all users get access to all the information that’s been shared in a channel by default, so watch who you talk about in there.

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