Slack Was Made for Businesses, But It's an Even Better Tool for Friends

Repurposing corporate America's killer app is as easy as inviting your buddies and heading over to Giphy.

If you don’t already use the messaging app Slack at work, you probably will. Of all the electronic leashes engineered for corporate America’s pets, Slack has the most tensile strength, which is precisely how it went from not existing to a $2.8-billion valuation in a little over a year. Here’s the thing about Stewart Butterfield’s little engine that did (and feel free to drop this link in your #general channel): It’s a better social utility than it is a work tool.

Start a Social Slack with your friends. Seriously. It’s great.


The fundamental difference between Slack and other chat clients is that it is bounded. Unlike, let’s say, AIM, Work Slack is only going to allow you to talk to people within your company, which means it is not a perfect simulacrum of society, which has no edges and is full to brimming with awkward interactions and passing acquaintances. You’re not going to meet people on Slack.

And that’s awesome. Meeting people — as you have likely noticed — is often terrible.

The big hurdle with Social Slack is deciding who to invite. This can be hard for younger people because their social circles are like amoebas that merge and reproduce asexually. But it’s no big deal for people whose friend groups have begun to ossify. It requires honesty, sure — you have fewer friends you want to talk to every day than you think you do — but the Slack selection process isn’t unilateral. Your friends will add to Social Slack too and it won’t be long until you’ve created a more structured version of the web you’ve woven for yourself. (Note: If you don’t like your friends, push notifications aren’t going to help.)

What makes Slack so great as a social tool is the way it superimposes something akin to management structure on the chaos of relationships. Social Slack breaks apart quickly into a bunch of channels (#fantasyfootball, #sex, #mothersday if you’re doing the family thing) populated with the friends who actually enjoy talking about the relevant subject. You can be on Social Slack with someone and never talk to them in the same way you can go to the same good party as someone you don’t care for and choose to avoid them. Sure, they can shout into the #general channel, but you don’t have to listen. You can always pull someone else aside.

It is exclusive, sure, but in the right way. You won’t be included in conversations you don’t want to have. There’s no problem with that. Butterfield knows this.


At it’s best, Work Slack is GIFs. Managers love the program because it allows them to hector their employees without seeming aggressive (no capital letters!), but the reason folks near the base of the pyramid are all in is that it allows them to mine Giphy. And there is gold in that hill. Sure, you can enjoy this functionality in the workplace, but it’s way better outside the confines of the office and common decency.

Social Slack allows you to explore the horrifying outer limits of GIF communication. In a land beyond censorship, the ability to embed videos and GIFs is dangerous - but we’re all friends here so it’s all good..

And dropping photos in there is great because, while you can only gently rib your boss, you can troll the hell out of your friends. Or just spend some quality time. Share a movie-watching experience remotely. React to the game. Group sext. Do whatever you gotta do and Social Slack will help you do it together.

Push Notifications

The downside of Work Slack is the upside of Social Slack. Work Slack allows you to choose between being notified every time someone says anything (say, Steve out in the San Fran office is crushing his Malort) or whenever someone addresses you. The former option can wear on you - especially if you’d rather be drinking with Steve than doing what you’re doing - and the latter option is ominous. It turns the friendly shake of your smartphone into a sort of fraught cackle. Work Slack has transformed the phone check from a social power move into something fundamentally asocial. 

Great coworkers are great, but it’s also good to have friends and exchange messages with them and talk about them to other friends and generally stay in the smartphone-enabled mix.

In Conclusion…

If your boss wants to use Slack, you’re going to be using Slack. You might as well embrace it. Utilizing both Social and Work Slack makes the program into a communication platform without a set affiliation. The electronic leash still tugs, but now it pulls in two directions. Life is like that. Slack should be as well.