The four years after Mike Tyson became the youngest person to win boxing’s heavyweight championship were torrid. The young champ took on ten challengers before finally being felled and losing his title.
The makers of Slack must know how he felt. In the four years since they launched their genre-creating collaboration software they’ve had to fight off challenges from three of the biggest names in the tech industry: Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.
And now a new challenge has risen. Atlassian, maker of the popular HipChat workflow app, has regrouped with what they claim is a totally new Slack rival, Stride. Like HipChat before it, Stride is designed to let people effortlessly stay in contact with their colleagues, sliding between chat and video conferencing and keeping all their work tools within one app.
Stride video conferencing wants to be Slack’s Buster Douglas and finally fell the young champion. If it pitches its product on more efficient use of video calling, with short, sharp connections, we think it might have a chance at an upset victory.
What Does Stride Offer?
Atlassian entered the workplace communication game before Slack enjoyed its dramatic rise. It bought HipChat in 2012, and went on to win the business of some big names, including Tesla, Uber, and Expedia, and generated 90,000 paying customers. That progress, however, pales in comparison to what Slack achieved–the Silicon Valley darling has 5 million daily users and 1.5 million paying customers, recently gathered $500 million in financing, and was very nearly sold to Amazon for $9 billion.
So, Atlassian has gone back to the drawing board with Stride. It’s not an upgrade to HipChat, but an entire rewrite of that app’s core functions.
Stride expands on the simple intra-office communication of HipChat, and is intended, like Slack, to be the central command hub for an employee’s entire working life. It will still revolve around a Facebook-like central screen filled with user profiles, incoming messages, and instant video conferencing links, but now there’s a sleeker presentation and three key new features:
- Users can assign tasks to each other, and post updates when internal discussions have been resolved.
- Stride has its own free video calling software and anyone from a designated group can instantly join an ongoing group video chat among their peers.
- A ‘focus’ mode delays and prioritizes messages, so users aren’t overwhelmed with information.
Basically, everything else about Stride seems a lot like Slack. More importantly, just as Slack has found out, Stride’s new features are open to “reinterpretation” by the bigger Slack clones.
Slack Has Bigger Threats to Worry About
The rules of tech warfare have changed over the past five years. No longer do big companies always purchase and swallow up little companies when they spot a good idea. Both Microsoft and Amazon were rumored to have been heading down that usual path with Slack, but have instead decided to emulate rather than absorb their competition.
The result is a multi-cornered fight, pitting household names against smaller outfits like Atlassian.
The first real shot across Slack’s bow, Teams has been dubbed a clone, but with the added firepower of established industry leaders Skype for Business and Office 365 (with its 100 million users) built in. Microsoft said it had Teams working in 125,000 organizations within its first six months.
Google Hangouts Meet
After years of juggling video conferencing platforms and brand names, Google finally settled on a workplace communications app by splitting its popular Hangouts service in two. Google Hangouts Meet is the resulting challenger to Slack, and like Microsoft, it can match the instant messaging and video calling of the original, and pile on the benefits of the G Suite cloud computing universe.
Workplace by Facebook
Facebook is no stranger to emulating the success of others. Instagram is currently in the process of killing Snapchat, and Facebook is hoping its Workplace app will do the same to Slack. The workflow platform is like a grown-up version of Facebook proper, with a more serious, grey-heavy color palette and connections to external programs such as G Suite, Office 365, and Salesforce.
So, Stride faces major hurdles in even getting through that lot and having a shot at Slack’s marketplace. Its best chance is to be smarter, rather than sleeker.
Less Talk, More Video
It seems the biggest complaint users have about Slack–and the clone war giants chasing it–is that there’s too much communication going on. Social chatter fills up the scrolling message feed, and people get drawn into the debates and ideas of projects to which they’re not directly attached. All this socializing makes for a friendly environment but can distract from the actual work that needs to get done.
Stride is hoping to curtail that by using AI to filter out the social–or at least prioritize what’s most relevant. Its ‘focus’ mode will reportedly be beefed up with better AI in the future, and there’s a ‘head down’ setting that acts like a Do Not Disturb sign. Further, it could encourage a better–and maybe more frequent–use of video conferencing.
The auxiliary nature of messaging encourages idle chat, but a face-to-face conversation demands more attention and focus. Shorter and more frequent video meetings can be started with a single click in Stride, and could potentially lead to faster decision making and therefore better outcomes.
But Stride’s big issue is still its similarity to Slack and other competitors. Maybe it needs to put more focus on video conferencing. Stride could perhaps emulate the immediacy and intimacy of a quick walk to a colleague’s desk by introducing time limits for quick calls, so there’s a greater incentive to get to the point. We’ve yet to see anyone try and streamline the actual conversation side of video calling–maybe that could become Stride’s knockout blow?
Image Source: Flickr CC User Aaron Parecki