Will Slack Connect Replace Email? Probably Not

In fact, it needs email to even work

Key Takeaways

  • Slack claims its new Connect service can replace email.
  • Slack Connect lets you invite anyone to a Slack chat via—yes—email.
  • Email is insecure, and full of problems, but at least everyone uses it.
Slack screenshot showing the Slack Connect channel
Slack

Slack’s new Connect feature wants to replace email by letting you send Slack messages directly to anyone—not just your coworkers. But can it really do it?

The new Slack Connect feature is, says Slack, "designed to replace email outside your company." Adding a new conversation is easy. You just paste in the contact’s email address, write a few words, and send the invite. If accepted, you and the invitee now can converse in a Slack chat, just like you do with your coworkers. It looks great. But email is still involved.

"Many thought that email would die, and what do you know—it's more popular than ever," online marketer Stephen Montagne told Lifewire via email. "How can Slack replace email if you need the person's email address in order to DM them? That doesn't seem like replacing [email] to me, since the person that you're trying to connect with will still have to use an email."

The Old 'Email Is Broken' Cliche

Email is great because it’s open. Everyone has an email address, and anyone can email anyone else. If email worked like other messaging services, Gmail users would only be able to email other Gmail users, and so on.

But email also can be a pain. It’s disorganized, messy, it can be hard to keep track of conversations and contacts, and that’s before we get to spam and all those unwanted emails from your coworkers.

"How can Slack replace email if you need the person's email address in order to DM them?"

Slack has its faults—the interface is clunky, and searching for older conversations is almost impossible—but at least it’s easy to use, and conversations stay mostly organized. If your company uses Slack, it’s usually all-in on Slack. Being able to fold outside contacts into the same world is appealing.

Security

Barely hours after Slack started to roll out these new external connections, bad actors used the new email invites to send abusive messages. These messages were hard to block because they all came from the same feedback@slack.com address. Block the abusive invites, and you block all invites.

Slack has since removed the feature that lets you personalize the invitation text.

There are other security and privacy concerns, too. Email is absurdly insecure. It’s sent in plain text, and can be read anywhere along its path across the internet. That said, there’s a robust system of protocols around email, designed for accountability. 

"Most companies have record retention policies that must be followed, and Slack DMs don't always get archived like email," John Ross, CEO of online education company Test Prep Insight, told Lifewire via email. "Saving email messages can often save you, and Slack doesn't offer the same record management capabilities."

Rolf Bax, chief HR officer at Resume.io, agrees. "The major privacy issue is of course what Slack intends to do with all the email records it keeps," Bax told Lifewire via email. "As it stands, Slack doesn't know who I send and receive emails to and from using my personal email accounts, and giving the company all of that data is not something to take lightly."

Slack Connect Settings
Slack

Slack does let companies tailor their own security policies, and soon will let them restrict what members from "partner organizations" can do.

Email is also a vector for all kinds of attacks, which Slack aims to suppress. Phishing employees to gain access to company data or passwords is a common enough problem over email. Slack already restricts certain file types in Slack Connect, and in a blog post, it says it’s building malware protections. These are not yet available.

Not Appropriate

Finally, inviting customers or other business partners to Slack isn’t always appropriate.

"Most consumers don't use Slack, and even if we could identify a segment of customers who were on Slack, I don't think DMs through that medium would be appropriate," says Ross. One can imagine companies trying to bring potential customers into Slack.

"And for B2B companies," Ross added, "I am still not sure Slack Connect can fully replace email. Slack is just such a casual medium that I am not sure it would be appropriate for client communications."

Two people setting up a meeting through using the Calendly app on Slack Connect
Slack

Even if it is appropriate for your business, Slack Connect could lead to a split, with some customers and partners in Slack, and some still reachable only by email. That doesn’t really solve anything, and could make things needlessly complicated.

In the end, email seems to be indestructible, and likely will be around long after Slack has come and gone. Instead of trying to replace it, then, perhaps we should think about using email better? Whoever solves that will be onto something big.

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