With its budding reputation as the "email-killer," and its recent valuation of nearly $3 billion, Slack is the undisputed king of enterprise apps. Early on, the company experienced exponential growth with little to no marketing.
On December 15, Slack announced the launch of Slack Platform, expanding the core product with new tools and a focus on app discovery. The announcement is relevant to business users and developers alike, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the move solidifies Slack's long-term strategy of moving beyond simple communication to potentially take over other pieces of a typical enterprise software suite. As Owen Williams pointed out on The Next Web in October, Slack's acquisitions of document collaboration tool Spaces and screen sharing startup Screenhero lay the foundation for the company's growth beyond a simple chat tool into more of a project management suite. And, the Slack Platform can build on that.
In the official Slack Platform announcement, much of the language was focused on the idea of making Slack "play well" with other apps. As such, the first aspect of the Slack Platform is the Slack App Directory, the purpose of which is "for users to discover and install apps they need for teamwork."
Think of the Slack App Directory as an app store for Slack. Featured apps are listed at the top and the rest of the apps are organized by category. This does indeed make it easier for users to find an app that fits their needs and install it directly from the directory. At launch, 160 apps were available in the directory.
Obviously, this holds weight for developers as well as provides a better discovery experience and better searchability for your app. In fact, users can even search for apps within a Slack conversation if they want by typing "/apps <keyword>" in the search bar. (If you want to submit your app to the directory, you can apply here.)
Also of note for developers is Slack's bot push. Bots allow users to interact with a third-party tool directly from within Slack. Slack is known for its own bot, but the Platform announcement came with news of easier third-party bot installation for users. According to Slack's Medium post about Platform, developers can now allow customers to install their bot by clicking a button. Users need to follow these three steps:
- Create an app on api.slack.com and give your app a bot username.
- Put the "Add to Slack" button on your site and implement OAuth.
- When users complete the OAuth flow, you'll receive a new bot_user_id and bot_access_token that you can use to connect to the Real Time Messaging API and start talking with your new bot.
So far, Slack launched with bot buttons from Growbot, Nikabot, Meekan and Howdy. And, for developers who want to build a bot to begin with, Slack announced Botkit, an open source framework for building integrations and bots that was developed by Howdy. It basically makes it easier to build a bot by taking care of a lot of the backend.
Furthermore, Slack released new AWS Lambda blueprints, if you're looking to build an integration in Python or Node.js. For updated documentation, you can find information on building integrations here and on building Slack apps here.
To continue growing its ecosystem, Slack announced an $80 million investment fund backed by major VC firms Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, KPCB, Social Capital, and Spark Capital—all of whom are investors in Slack itself. For developers and entrepreneurs, this means there are now more opportunities to build something on the platform. This is good news for Slack users too, as it likely will help lay the foundation for new products, features, and integrations with the platform.
This announcement is the latest in a string of key updates and features that the company announced throughout 2015. Early in the year, Slack announced a Box integration and, soon after, launched support for emojis.
It's clear that Slack has ambitions beyond chat, and the company is making strong moves to make them a reality.
What do you think?
Is Slack the next big enterprise player? What Slack app or integration still needs to be built? Tell us in the comments.
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.