In Praise of Folders

unknownSlack is a big name in the social learning space. The collaboration tool has grown dramatically with over 4m daily users currently, and it is only just over two years old! Some Slack statistics are here

Some of Slack’s users are wildly enthusiastic about the tool. Just look at this post: . Pluralsight has replaced its internal email with Slack, so it is pretty important to that global, tech company! And they love it too.

What is the source of this wild enthusiasm? A lot of it, is a reflection of people’s disillusionment with email. Email is a nightmare of disordered, random information to the point where it has been described as the place where ideas go to die! (see, here: ) for example)

Slack’s beauty is that it keeps, in one place, all the documents and communications from a single project. These are all clustered into one channel and differentiated, largely, by tagging. There is a defined cohort of users for a particular channel, and so you can see how small groups can communicate much more effectively using Slack than sharing the same information via email.  Gone for ever are the ‘ccs’ and worse the ‘bccs’. It is far more open and transparent.

In addition, it is possible to have multiple channels with different people registered for each channel. So, if you are working on four projects, for example, you have four Slack channels each of which is completely separate from the other three. When you open Slack instead of the chaos of email, you have nice discrete places where each significant project has its information stored, that is accessible by the people who belong to the project. What is not to like?

When you dig deeper, there are some obvious limitations to Slack as well. Everything is posted in date order apart from specific communications or responses to a message or document. Once the project starts to grow in size and volume, the long line of documents and information snakes backwards in time to that first post. If everything has been well tagged you can find those documents or comments easily. If the tagging is slightly erratic or ‘slack’ then there is a huge pile of inaccessible data not unlike email. A lot of trawling is required and you can miss stuff.

So Slack requires discipline and management. Someone must keep a close eye on the channel and tend it, and tag it, and generally maintain its usefulness. If you fail to do that it becomes a tad confusing and chaotic. And at some point, it turns from a garden to a pile of weeds: it can break down as a comms tool.

Call me old fashioned but I like folders!! If you have a tree structure you can see at a glance where everything has been placed and the tree grows as the project expands, but it maintains a coherent structure. Everything is accessible, everything is clear and neat, and for lots of people that is a prerequisite for good project management and peace of mind. If you can also communicate with group members straight out of the App then that adds massively to the functionality.

Have a look at Noddlepod  as an alternative way of ordering your world. In a time-poor, information-heavy world where we inevitably live and work, you may well like its alternative approach to managing large amounts of pretty random information and communications.  It allows us to visually filter out what we don’t need.  As tech expert and professor at NYU Clay Shirky made an important speech claiming the problem was: ‘..not information overload, it’s filter failure’. Having the technology to filter out the unnecessary, makes relevant immediately and obviously more accessible. And the filter is the nest of folders. When you open Noddlepod you see the folder structure; not the pile of documents they contain. Life becomes instantly more manageable. And there is search to back it up.

That’s what social learning platforms should do as well – help people get to the information they want and need, as quickly, easily and effectively as possible. That is certainly what Noddlepod aims to do. You can tap into what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Context is so important in social learning, yet Slack can be context poor below the channel level. In our world, once any piece of information is out there, it is soon lost online or on your hard drive, and frustratingly difficult to find quickly. Even if it can be found, then it is hard to find the context. And context is important! Slack helps; and much more beside but check out other tools too.

I love clarity, and simplicity of access and simple storage. Check it out:

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