Slack Versus the Competition

Slack is an internal communications hub that conveniently connects teams together, regardless of physical distance. I worked for several years as a web application developer in a department that relied heavily on Slack for all employee interaction, as our team was distributed across a large college campus and it was rarely possible for employees to have any face-to-face conversations. My team needed to be able to communicate quickly and easily, so we began using Slack exclusively for this purpose. We found that it was a great benefit to the unity of our team.

Essentially, Slack acts as an instant messaging system, with the added benefit of optional add-ons. There are two methods of chat in Slack: channels (group chat), and direct message (person-to-person chat). Direct messaging is a great way to connect one-one-one with colleagues, while channels allow the right people to get the right information in the fastest method possible.

When Slack came along, there were no real competitors in the market, however as the popularity of digital communication in the workplace grew, so did competition in the communication tools market. One current alternative is RocketChat, a communications platform that allows users to tailor its look and feel to their own requirements. Both platforms allow users the option of one-on-one and group chatting. However, unlike Slack, Rocketchat is a free, open-source solution. One of RocketChat’s most prominent features is how easy it is to migrate to: a user can export their existing files from Slack and upload them directly to RocketChat, making them a convenient option for dissatisfied Slack users.

Another popular Slack alternative is Chanty, a simple team chat tool for small and medium-sized teams that doesn’t limit its searchable message history. Chanty organizes a user’s files, links, tasks, and conversations into folders in a feature called Teambook. Compared to Slack, Chanty is also faster and more affordable (up to 75% cheaper) and it offers twice as much storage compared to Slack. Also, while Slack limits users to 10,000 messages in their free plan, Chanty offers unlimited messages in all their plans.

Regardless of which digital communication hub one employs to stay connected to their respective team members, the fact remains that no point in history has had such an abundance of choice when it comes to long distance communication options. Users can now select whichever platform suits their particular needs best.

Fallavena, L. (2020, December 14). We’ve Tried 4 Different Slack Alternatives & Here’s Our Conclusion. https://rocket.chat/blog/learn/slack-alternative/

Mykhoparkina, O. (2021, February 5). We’ve Tried 8 Slack Alternatives. https://www.chanty.com/blog/using-slack-alternatives/

Benefits of Distributed Teams

One of the costs of maintaining a physical office space rather than a distributed team is a limited pool of job applicants. The business must settle for job-seekers who happen to live within a convenient commute to the company’s physical location, and those candidates may not be as suitable or talented as applicants in other parts of the world. It is even possible that a company cannot find any suitably skilled candidates in their area, and this is especially true for positions that require very specific niche skills.

By employing a distributed team instead, and thus removing the geographical boundaries imposed by a physical location, a company has a much larger pool of applicants to choose from. This allows for greater diversity of experience and potentially more talented employees. A distributed team approach also lessens the risk of a company having trouble remaining adequately staffed, as some physical locations may not have the populace required to maintain staffing needs and could thwart company expansion.

However, there are also benefits to maintaining a physical location that cannot be replicated with a distributed team. For example, physical locations anchor a company to a local community. In some fields, that anchor is required for creating brand loyalty and awareness. Employees who live together in a certain community are also uniquely aware of the community’s needs and wants, and those employees are more likely to share some cultural experiences that could aid with communication and relationship forming within the company. Building and maintaining relationships within a distributed team is uniquely challenging; Sometimes communication is more easily achieved in close physical proximity rather than digitally, and a sense of shared community certainly aids the process.

O’Duinn, J. (2018). Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart. Release Mechanix.

Breu, K., & Hemingway, C. (2004). Making organizations virtual: the hidden cost of distributed teams. Journal of Information Technology, 19, 191–202. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.jit.2000018

Digital Privacy Policies

Humans are naturally entitled to a degree of privacy in their lives, and that applies to the digital sphere as well. However, data has an inherent value, and unfortunately in the pursuit of valuable data certain threats have evolved. For instance, both personally identifying information and non-personally-identifying information (such as your behavior on a website) may be collected and analyzed by interested parties. Hackers can also gain access to a user’s accounts and data with nefarious intent. These threats require users, and by extension workplaces, to take action to protect their digital privacy.

Some digital threats include: tracking cookies, government surveillance, and identity theft. Users may fall prey to these threats when they use the same password on multiple websites, fail to logoff sites, don’t read service terms when creating accounts, or open email attachments from addresses that they don’t recognize. These threats can be greatly minimized with a few simple precautions. For example, users can block Flash Player as it has many vulnerabilities hackers can take advantage of to steal information from a device. Blocking JavaScript, a programming language that allows browser interactions, can also enhance security as hackers often make use of it as well. Using the browser’s Privacy Mode can protect users from Tracking Cookies that exist to collect user data for various purposes. Turning off the browser’s password storage feature makes it more difficult for hackers to gain access to your accounts. Finally, using a strong antivirus program that includes real-time scanning and protection can protect users from malicious downloads.

By carefully adhering to strict digital privacy policies such as these, both users and workplaces can enjoy a degree of safety as they make use of the amazing technological tools that are currently available.

Shahid, H. (2021, September 22). What Is Internet Privacy & Why It Matters so much in 2021? PureVPN.  https://www.purevpn.com/blog/what-is-internet-privacy-scty

Shahid, H. (2021, March 22). What are Internet Cookies and How They Invade Your Privacy? PureVPN.  https://www.purevpn.com/blog/all-about-internet-cookies-scty

Shahid, H. (2020, June 22). A Beginner’s Guide to Web Browser Security. PureVPN.  https://www.purevpn.com/blog/browser-security-scty

R.O.B. Robot Hack

This was a fun electronics project that I did a few years ago. I hacked an old Nintendo NES R.O.B Robot to be controllable from a PC via a webpage (I ended up selling the robot to someone who wanted to use it in a commercial).

I used a Teensy micro-controller soldered to the robot’s original circuit board and a bit of code to interpret serial input. Then I made a PHP file that sends serial data to the Teensy’s port and made an gui with a bit of Bootstrap. Here is the code if you’d like to try this yourself: R.O.B. Robot Controller

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