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Why instant messaging in the workplace is hot again



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The chat is almost as old as the Internet. But this year, investors and big technology companies treated the messages in the workplace as the next big thing.

Slack announced a $ 250 million investment in September from the Japanese technology company SoftBank, raising its total financing to $ 790 million and boosting its valuation from $ 3.8 billion to $ 5.1. In June, rumors emerged that Amazon wanted to buy the company for $ 9 billion.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has launched a new chat application called Equipos that will eventually replace Skype for Business. Atlassian, the company that is behind the venerable HipChat job application application, launched a new service called Stride. Indian billionaire Bhavin Turakhia invested $ 45 million of his own money in Flock, a Slack competitor who founded 1

. Facebook added video to its Workplace business tool.

It may seem strange to invest so much money in old-hat technology. But the real goal of these new applications is not just to build a better way for employees to send text messages. It is to build a platform for the next generation of business software.

Microsoft Windows became the main platform for the desktop computing era, while the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store became platforms for the mobile era. Now, much of the technology industry believes that gadgets like Amazon Echo and applications like WeChat and Facebook Messenger are introducing us into the era of the "conversational interface", and both old and new companies hope to take control of this new territory. . 19659002] The idea is that in the future, you will do most of your work from inside your chat application, instead of switching from one application to another. You can archive your expense reports, answer customer support inquiries, or verify sales figures from an instant messaging client.

"Think of how many workflows in your day-to-day are focused on human interaction," says Microsoft Teams Platform Program Manager Larry Jin. "We are trying to unite them, it does not make sense that some of them appear in the chat and some of them appear in another context."

Slack is trying to accelerate the conversational future by investing part of its funding in companies that build applications on Slack. Vice President of Product April Underwood says that Slack has invested in 24 different companies, including the Polly survey tool, the Donut meeting coordination tool and the Guru knowledge management tool. Meanwhile, the company's application store for software running on Slack has attracted more than 1,000 applications. Underwood says that a few minutes after launching the Slack app directory in 2015, developers told him they already had customers.

However, many companies are covering their bets. The video conferencing company Twine Labs, in which Slack invested, is also creating applications for Microsoft Teams, Facebook Workplace and Amazon Chime, according to its CEO Anthony Claudia.

Microsoft, for its part, is taking a slightly different approach. In addition to Teams, which competes directly with Slack, it offers the Microsoft Bot Framework, a platform for creating chat-based applications that can be executed not only on computers, but also on Slack, Facebook Messenger and other instant messaging services. Even if your company chooses another tool to send messages, Microsoft wants to be the technology that supports the applications you just use.

Chat in the workplace is growing rapidly. Slack now has 50,000 paying customers. Microsoft packages equipment with Office 365 at no additional cost, and the company announced earlier this year that 125,000 organizations use the software. In October, Facebook announced that 14,000 organizations are using Workplace. IDC analyst Wayne Kurtzman says this is just the beginning. At this time, many teams within companies use tools like Slack for free, often without the official approval of their corporate IT departments. "Most companies do not have a corporate collaboration solution," he says. "We will see much more government and integration in the workplace."

But so far there is no "killer application" to push for the adoption of conversational interfaces. When asked about successes on the Slack platform, Underwood cites companies such as Donut and Polly. But while they may be useful tools, they hardly represent a paradigm shift at the level of the computerized spreadsheet or the BlackBerry.

Skepticism is already growing. An informal survey of the founders of startups conducted by First Round Capital included chatbots and conversational user interfaces and the third most exaggerated technology of the year. It would not be the first time that a new highly publicized paradigm vanishes. Just a few years ago, social networking applications in the workplace, such as Yammer, which Microsoft acquired for $ 1.2 billion in 2012, launched their own "application stores" with the dream of becoming the next big platform. Now, with the increase of chat in real time, most of those applications are almost forgotten.

Underwood does not flinch. "We are in the midst of a change of several decades," she says. Investors, however, may not be eager to wait that long.

1 * CORRECTION at 11:30 a.m. ET on 12/22/2017: Bhavin Turakhia founded Flock. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that his brother had founded the company. *

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