inessential by Brent Simmons

Group Communication App Models

Because I worked on Glassboard, a group communication app, I have an interest in different solutions to this problem.

Glassboard was based on the Facebook model: it had posts-and-comments with newest at the top. It was asynchronous rather than real-time (though it was often fairly close to real-time).

Our reasoning was sound. Facebook was hugely popular, and we wanted to use a model that people were familiar with. We decided asynchronous was fine because it was a mobile app — and people don’t just sit on their phones all day long. (And because Facebook wasn’t real-time either.)

* * *

There are other models we could have used. I wanted to emulate Twitter. That would have meant a flat list with no comments — but a post could have been a reply, and there would have been a way to view just the replies to a given post.

This still would have been newest-at-top and it wouldn’t necessarily have been real-time (though, again, it could have been close, since super-fast-async gets close to real-time).

Glassboard wasn’t a success, and I suspect even this Twitter-like Glassboard wouldn’t have been a success either.

* * *

Enter Slack. I think it may be the proof that there’s just one model that clicks for people doing group communication: chat. Chronological order. Real-time. Small, one-sentence-sized message-entry box at the bottom.

I don’t mean that Slack’s success is inevitable because of its model — but I believe that that model may be necessary. Had Slack worked like Glassboard, or like my hypothetical Twitter-like Glassboard, it would not have succeeded. (Is my theory.)

In other words, people like chat, and everything else is too much trouble and not enough fun.

* * *

If I can convince myself of this theory, then that small part of me that still wants to build a Twitter-like Glassboard app can finally shut up.

PS Warning: I’m not looking at Twitter until after I see the new Star Wars movie. It could be weeks. This kind of sucks because Twitter is the modern comments section, and this means I won’t be looking at comments. But, yes, it’s rather important to me to avoid spoilers.

PPS Also: I’ve replaced Twitter with Slack for many uses. But that’s another topic.