Slacking With Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield

On Slack, love, happiness, Slack as an operating system for your company, and the inevitable end of all things. And also Slack.
April 6, 2016

Toph Tucker 4:29 PM Hi Stewart! It's a pleasure
Stewart Butterfield 4:31 PM G’day, mate!
Toph Tucker 4:31 PM Congrats on Australia and funding and generally being a very successful person!
Stewart Butterfield 4:31 PM Well, that is very kind.
Toph Tucker 4:31 PM Quick warm-up exercise: I'll post one of Keita Takahashi's "quick ideas" for Glitch, and I'm curious how you'd pivot it to a business productivity tool...
Stewart Butterfield 4:32 PM Oooh — good idea.
Stewart Butterfield 4:32 PM Those are pretty great.
Toph Tucker 4:32 PM
uploaded and commented on an image: #36: Footprints
#36: "You might be feel existence of other players and time if there are footprints."
Stewart Butterfield 4:32 PM That seems like Snapchat for business.
Stewart Butterfield 4:33 PM But, a way of viewing the corporate intranet and knowledge management tools so that you can see who was recently looking at specific files, and also who found them in their search results.
Toph Tucker 4:33 PM haha that sounds like regulatory hell! but go on..
Toph Tucker 4:33 PM like presence on steroids
Stewart Butterfield 4:33 PM So, not a stand alone tool, but a good feature!
Toph Tucker 4:33 PM k 2nd...
Toph Tucker 4:34 PM
uploaded and commented on an image: #96: Sleepwalking
"This is somnambulant skill. If you got this skill, your avatar will hanging around on world so freely while doing afk. They can do pet, jump, harvest and etc etc while sleeping. It might looks like they really alive."
Stewart Butterfield 4:35 PM Hmmm — it’s like those old novelty glasses that had eyeballs printed on top of the lenses.
Stewart Butterfield 4:35 PM So, a bot that can take over for you in Slack — it reads all your message history and composes realistic sound messages from you to post into your regular channels.
Toph Tucker 4:36 PM i'd love that
Toph Tucker 4:36 PM could answer simple queries about my schedule or something
Stewart Butterfield 4:36 PM “When is Toph back from lunch?"
Toph Tucker 4:36 PM or just where am i, and it could guess based on trust how much to reveal...
Toph Tucker 4:37 PM there's this eerie recurrence in your career of of building a microcosm, building a tool within that game world, and then spinning the tool out
Toph Tucker 4:37 PM is that, like... how you think?
Stewart Butterfield 4:38 PM Well, neither of them were actually parts of the game.
Stewart Butterfield 4:38 PM In the case of Flickr, that’s a story that was published at the time and which we tried to get corrected, but … ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Toph Tucker 4:38 PM i stand corrected!!
Toph Tucker 4:38 PM interesting
Stewart Butterfield 4:39 PM Flickr was in fact something we came up with that we could build taking advantage of the technical infrastructure we had already created, but which we could finish (and bring to market) sooner.
Stewart Butterfield 4:39 PM And Slack was just a built-from-scratch version of the jury-rigger and hacked-together system for internal communication we built while working on Glitch.
Stewart Butterfield 4:40 PM So, the common thing in both cases was a desperate attempt to find something to salvage from a bunch of wasted work :wink:
Toph Tucker 4:40 PM i wanted to ask — does it feel like a waste when people had fun for a while?
Toph Tucker 4:41 PM john ruskin said of architecture something like "when we build, let us think we build for ever" — but software is so ephemeral...
Stewart Butterfield 4:41 PM That’s a good point.
Stewart Butterfield 4:41 PM It was more than people invested so much in this world and then it disappeared
Stewart Butterfield 4:41 PM it was the medium for their relationships and had all this history
Stewart Butterfield 4:42 PM so, more of a shame than a waste
Stewart Butterfield 4:42 PM There was still value in it while it existed
Toph Tucker 4:42 PM but that's true to life too
Stewart Butterfield 4:42 PM Reminds me of a point that Dan Savage is fond of making, with respect to romantic relationships …
Stewart Butterfield 4:43 PM … we think that the only “successful” relationship is one that ends in the death of one of the partners. Anything that ends before one party dies is a failure.
Toph Tucker 4:43 PM right but there can never be a true game neverending
Stewart Butterfield 4:44 PM But, there can be successful relationships that conclude before either party dies. And it is much more healthy to think that.
Stewart Butterfield 4:44 PM Yes. But we should aim there.
Toph Tucker 4:44 PM i guess there's then a climate change imperative, for creative people to sustain the world...
Toph Tucker 4:44 PM um if Slack is sorta still a neverending MMO, and bots are NPCs etc etc, and the game world is everything people make with the help of Slack... then, what sort of world do you want to help build?
Stewart Butterfield 4:45 PM Whatsoever world the participants desire to make :simple_smile:
Toph Tucker 4:45 PM (i like the Dan Savage point)
Stewart Butterfield 4:46 PM (Finding a quote — one moment.)
Toph Tucker 4:46 PM i have all mine in a big note here haha
Stewart Butterfield 4:47 PM Oh well. Here is the first line:
"There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite.”
and I believe the second line is:
“Finite games are played for the purpose of winning; infinite games for the purpose of continuing the play."
Toph Tucker 4:48 PM finite and infinite games! is a book right?  by... someone just recommended it to me
Stewart Butterfield 4:48 PM Yep. Great book.
Toph Tucker 4:49 PM are there particularly exciting uses you see people finding?
Toph Tucker 4:49 PM and ... do you care about having a legacy through that?
Stewart Butterfield 4:50 PM I think the examples that I like best are ways in which people have altered the ways in which they work, even slightly. For example, eliminating the daily “stand up” meeting in favor of a round of messages in Slack.
Stewart Butterfield 4:50 PM And the vain part of me would like to have a legacy of some kind … I think most people want to make some kind of dent in the universe.
Toph Tucker 4:50 PM :simple_smile:
Stewart Butterfield 4:51 PM But, I am trying to learn to be content with enough exercise and healthy food.
Stewart Butterfield 4:51 PM Just being alive is pretty good!
Stewart Butterfield 4:51 PM Or, unhealthy-but-delicious food (edited)
Toph Tucker 4:51 PM haha one of my questions is "Are you happy?"
Stewart Butterfield 4:52 PM I asked around in the room here and then consensus is “I guess you’re happy … fundamentally"
Stewart Butterfield 4:52 PM But they see me being angry sometimes :wink:
Stewart Butterfield 4:52 PM I do think that I am happier than most people
Stewart Butterfield 4:52 PM or, more contented? more at peace?
Toph Tucker 4:52 PM interesting to answer that question democratically
Stewart Butterfield 4:52 PM Just took me 40 years or so
Stewart Butterfield 4:52 PM Well, let us not being an inquiry into the nature of happiness with 8 minutes to go
Toph Tucker 4:53 PM sure haha. altering modes of working — do you think that group chat as a mode of working can ever go too far? like i bet you saw that Jason Fried post
Stewart Butterfield 4:53 PM Oh, yeah — that was preposterous.
Stewart Butterfield 4:53 PM It’s content marketing!
Stewart Butterfield 4:54 PM He is a very smart guy, but either he’s missing something there or he’s just talking up his book.
Stewart Butterfield 4:54 PM Email is also an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.
Stewart Butterfield 4:55 PM Except you happen to open them all individually and there’s a lot more overhead.
Stewart Butterfield 4:55 PM Most physical workspaces are all-day meetings with random participants and no agenda.
Toph Tucker 4:55 PM Email is batched at least, offices... maybe offices just have norms people are more accustomed to?
Stewart Butterfield 4:56 PM But, his ideal world there is some platonic ideal of Nietzschean übermenschen who just sit around thinking genius thoughts all day and don’t have any business talking to other people. Designers? I don’t know. (edited)
Stewart Butterfield 4:56 PM In the real world people have to talk to each other to get work done.
Toph Tucker 4:57 PM As we're running out of time, important mystery from your conference homework: who is Jenny?
Stewart Butterfield 4:57 PM They do it with their mouths and on phones and in email and specifications and documents and with messaging too.
Toph Tucker 4:57 PM Your most trusted advisor!
Stewart Butterfield 4:57 PM Well, I thought it was usability tester?
Stewart Butterfield 4:57 PM Jenny is my girlfriend :simple_smile:
Toph Tucker 4:57 PM "trusted advisor or usability tester" yes
Toph Tucker 4:57 PM does she like Slack?
Toph Tucker 4:58 PM how're you doing?
Stewart Butterfield 4:58 PM Well, when I don’t know, I ask her :simple_smile:
Stewart Butterfield 4:58 PM And yes, she is a heavy user. And one of the producers of the Slack podcast.
Stewart Butterfield 4:58 PM In general? I am doing well.
Stewart Butterfield 4:58 PM It is exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it.
Stewart Butterfield 4:58 PM The better things go, the higher the stakes and more stress.
Stewart Butterfield 4:59 PM My LinkedIn bio is the best summary of my position/state of mind
Julia Blystone 5:00 PM Make it a good one :simple_smile:
Toph Tucker 5:00 PM Oh boy. Ok — glimpse of what Slack might be or mean to people in 5 or 10 years? Is it group chat or something more?
Toph Tucker 5:01 PM (I'll skip the "John Searle is sitting in a channel talking to a bot..." question)
Stewart Butterfield 5:01 PM Well, we have never said “chat” and we never would.
Stewart Butterfield 5:02 PM That trivializes what people actually do. Workplace communication is important to its participants. But it already isn’t just people talking to one another. It is also giant flows of data & information and a window into the workflows and business processes around the company.
Stewart Butterfield 5:02 PM In our Slack instance (430 employees and a couple of hundred of active guest accounts) we do about 35k messages a day from humans.
Stewart Butterfield 5:03 PM But there are another 150-200k messages each day from machines.
Toph Tucker 5:03 PM Wow (edited)
Stewart Butterfield 5:04 PM • Every time we make a receive a help ticket
• Every time someone tweets at the company
• Every time there’s a mobile crash report
• Every time we file a bug
• Every time we deploy new code
• Every time someone reviews one of our apps
Stewart Butterfield 5:04 PM I could go on and on and on
Toph Tucker 5:04 PM Are any of them talking to each other yet?
Toph Tucker 5:04 PM i.e. can they act on each other, like a transparent machine-to-machine api...
Stewart Butterfield 5:04 PM All of that flows into one place and is accessible to far more people than ever would have been possible otherwise. All of it is searchable. It is our system of record.
Stewart Butterfield 5:05 PM (That’s a totally different question and I’m still working on your last one!)
Stewart Butterfield 5:06 PM So, in 5 to 10 years, we will see more and more of that. It becomes what we said in the very beginning in a vague hand-waving but ambitiously metaphorical “an operating system for your team” … except now it is much more literal.
Stewart Butterfield 5:06 PM New kinds of applications will be built off of it. One’s that simply aren’t possible today because information is fragmented across so many different services.
Stewart Butterfield 5:07 PM And yes, some of them (many?) will be machines reading information from and interacting with other machines :simple_smile:
Butterfield: Photograph for Jennilee Morigomen for Bloomberg Businessweek; Tucker: Photos by 731.