Software

How Twist aims to compete against Slack with its own approach to collaboration

The company behind the collaborative task manager Todoist released Twist, an alternative to Slack, but with several thoughtful refinements.

A first glance, Twist looks like an alternative to Slack. The app supports centralized, searchable, threaded conversations among private teams. It offers direct messaging between individuals and among group members. Twist works on the major platforms, including Android, iOS, Windows, macOS—as well as in a browser. And, much like Slack, Twist can be used for free or you can pay ($60 per user per year) to gain full archive search, unlimited file storage, and 24x7 support.

Twist enables app integrations, but (as of July 2017) far fewer than Slack. Naturally, since the Doist team also makes the Todoist app, you can connect Twist to your tasks: Use Todoist to track progress, while you use Twist to discuss the work. There's a Team Check-in feature, support for appear.in for video conversations, and the ability use Zapier.com to connect to other web apps.

But Twist also makes several design decisions that differentiate it from Slack and Slack-like competitors, such as Hipchat, Hangouts Chat, and Microsoft Teams. Most notably, the following features mean that Twist might be better described as a modern forum app for organizational conversations.

1. No presence indicator

Twist builds-in a bias toward asynchronous work. You still have one-to-one and group messaging, but you won't see a little green dot or any other signal that a colleague is currently online. Twist removes two problems with presence: There's no peer pressure to remain always logged in and available, and there are no more "pounce" opportunities—where a colleague immediately messages you as soon as you login to the app.

This bias extends to the return key: Unlike in other chat apps, where the return/enter key sends a message, in Twist, the return key ends a paragraph, and starts another one. When you're finished drafting a message, you select Post to share your message.

Screenshot of TwistApp.com in Chrome desktop browser

Twist makes the hierarchy of conversations more visible than Slack, since it shows the channel, thread, and conversation.

2. Organized conversations

Twist organizes conversations in two levels (i.e., channels, threads and discussion), unlike Slack, which shows all conversation in one (i.e., a channel with all items in the channel). Twist makes it easier to see the different topics of conversation. Slack supports threaded conversations, but the threads take more taps/clicks to see. This additional visible hierarchy can make it easier to find a conversation in Twist.

The added structure is one reason I may use Twist instead of Slack next year with the class I teach. I could create a new thread for each class session, since Twist's structure makes it easier to find content—without wading through other conversation items, as I do now in Slack.

Screenshot of Time Off setting and resulting team member status display

The closest Twist gets to a presence indicator? A setting that lets you indicate days away.

3. Notification control

Twist includes a Time Off option, which turns off all notifications until a date you choose. When you choose this, Twist adds a notice below the person's name. As with Slack, you can snooze notifications, either for a few hours or for a set schedule of hours. I think of it as a presence indicator that operates on the scale of days away.

TwistApp.com search filter options (e.g., date, to:, from:, threads, messages, etc.)

In a browser, search Twist with a keyword, and narrow the results with a variety of filters.

4. Search filters

In a browser, Twist offers an easy-to-understand Filter option to narrow your search by person, by threads or messages, by channel, or by date. Fewer options are available in the mobile app.

That said, search may be a bit less necessary, since conversations are more easily segmented because of how Twist handles channels and threads.

Email, chat or forum?

Twist, Slack, and all of these group collaboration apps serve as excellent alternatives to email, in that they move conversations from private inboxes to shared spaces. The trend lately has been to add real-time elements—chat, video—to these apps. But Twist strikes me as more of a modern discussion forum app—what Google Groups might have been if Groups had been built in the modern era, instead of the email age. It's a group discussion tool, suitable for mobile workers and ready for web integrations.

Whether Twist is right for your team may be largely a question of culture. If the culture you've created depends on twitchy, always-on, immediate responses, Twist certainly won't be a fit. But if your team prefers fewer interruptions and wants to encourage thoughtful responses, Twist will give your team a modern forum for group dialogue.

What tool does your team use for asynchronous communication? Do you use real-time chat apps, or is a tool like TwistApp.com a better fit for your team? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber)!

Also see

Twist logo overlay on TwistApp.com screenshot
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic (TwistApp.com screenshot)

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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