Slack and Basecamp for Academics

This is a short preliminary to a longer post I’ll write in the near future. I’ve become ever more convinced over the last couple of years that project management software, such as Slack and Basecamp, will become integral features of most working environments. Perhaps eventually to the extent that e-mail is. In fact e-mail is the problem they’re both intended to solve. Complaints and anxieties concerning e-mail have almost reached the status of cliche and yet I still think we lack a developed reflexivity about the culture surrounding e-mail, the constraints and enablements the technology offers and how we ought to calibrate our reciprocal behaviour in light of them. Put simply: sustained co-ordination and collaboration through e-mail systematically generates problems which, in turn, tend to generate yet more e-mail as people try and solve them. It’s great for some things but for working on ongoing projects together, it’s vastly inferior to these new project management systems.

I was introduced to Basecamp when I worked at the Data Science Lab a couple of years ago and I found it a transformative experience: having used it to co-organise a large international conference, I simply couldn’t imagine a similar undertaking without it. I’m now using Slack for two ongoing collaborations. One is the festival a small group of us are running in summer 2017. In this case, Slack is allowing a group to coalesce after some initial face-to-face meetings. The other project is The Sociological Review, where we’re currently experimenting with using Slack after a couple of years of co-ordinating things purely through e-mail. It’s still early days for both, but I’m very optimistic about how central Slack will become to each of these undertakings.

Slack nail the virtues of their own software with their tagline be less busy. It offers a multitude of ways to communicate in real time, archive those communications and facilitate collaboration on the basis of them. All without adding to the sisyphean task that is most people’s experiences of e-mail. In a future post, I’ll try and do a detailed analysis of precisely why this is such a promising tool for academics. Meanwhile, this is a helpful video which introduces the service for those unfamiliar with it: