Chat Tools Compared

I recently had the opportunity to compare different chat tools and I thought I would share the results. Read on to learn more!

Background

Like I assume many of you, I have been using Slack for a long time. It is a great tool, but after using it for years I have experienced some limitations. Over the past few years several alternative chats tools have popped up. I convinced my startup to take a few days to compare the tools available and document what we like, do not like and lessons learned. We decided to use each tool for a single day, which is more than enough time to determine whether the tool is going to work for our needs or not. The next sections are our notes and the order in which we tested different chat tools.

Note: The pros and cons listed are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but just the things we cared about or noticed

Pricing

While for a big company the price of the chat tool may not matter as much, in the startup world price plays a big factor. Below is a look at the cost of the tools we looked at.

  • Slack
    • Free = 10K messages, 5GB storage total, 10 apps/integrations, 1-on-1 video calls
    • Standard (6.67/mo/annual or 8/mo) = Unlimited messages/apps/integrations, 10GB storage per user, video calls up to 15 people, Google OAuth + mandatory 2FA
    • Plus (12.50/mo/annual or 15/mo) = Standard + 20GB storage per user + SLA
  • Twist
    • Free = 1 month retention, 5GB storage total, 5 integrations, Google OAuth
    • Unlimited (5/mo/annual or 6/mo) = Unlimited retention/integration + SLA
  • Stride
    • Free = 25K messages, 5GB storage total, 10 apps/integrations
    • Standard (3/mo) = Unlimited messages/apps/integrations + group screen sharing
  • Hangouts Chat
    • Included in price of G Suite and Basic tier offers everything needed
  • Rocket Chat
    • Self-hosted = Free
    • Hosted Small (1/mo with required 50) = 50 concurrent users, 500 total users, 50 GB storage, unlimited messages

Slack

Pro

  • Large adoption
  • Tons of integrations
  • Tons of features
  • Straight forward administration

Cons

  • Lots of noise
  • Hard to follow along / catch up
  • Conversations (threads) are not very good
  • Search leaves a lot to be desired
  • Price — more expensive per user than G Suite

Twist

Differentiation

  • Calmer communication — less notifications
  • More organized team knowledge — everything is a conversation
  • More productive teamwork — better search

Pros

  • Way less noise
  • Easy to refer to previous discussions
  • Named threads are helpful

Cons

  • Way fewer features
  • Notifications are not real-time
  • Conversation is not real-time (do not know when people are typing)
  • Cannot reply to messages – everything is a thread (even email offers this)
  • Named threads are required

Lessons Learned

  • We need to be deliberate about sharing high-value content on wiki or email rather than chat
  • Chat is for IM-type info that is ok to miss

Decision

  • Not for us — we already have email
  • We need real-time collaboration

Stride

Differentiation

  • Actions and decisions — better search
  • Easier to turn messages into to-dos — ensure things do not get lost

Pros

  • Easy to track actions and decisions
  • Has most of the features we need at a cheaper (50%) price

Cons

  • Not built into Atlassian yet – requires a separate domain
  • Doesn’t support DMs for >2 people – does support private rooms though (basically the same thing)
  • Doesn’t support reactions to messages, the most efficient way to ack something in slack
  • Manual to track actions and decisions – really no different from Slack pins
  • Do not know when people are typing
  • No threaded conversations

Lessons Learned

  • Remember to pin the actions and decisions taken in Slack
  • If we get to it, maybe we can add a bot that will create JIRA stories for the actions
  • If we get to it, maybe we can add a highlights reel type of bot that will pull out actions and decisions and post them to a daily digest etc

Decision

  • Would rather extend Slack currently
  • Has potential, but too young of a product
  • Should see where it goes and re-evaluate in a year

Hangouts Chat

Differentiation

  • Everything is a conversation — easy to search
  • Replies to conversations are brought to your attention — ensure things do not get lost
  • Integration with Google applications (e.g. Drive, Docs, etc)
  • Major improvements over what Hangout provides

Pros

  • Threads and search are very good
  • New messages or new updates to existing threads are shown at the bottom of the page making it easier to catch up
  • Included in the price of G Suite

Cons

  • No real-time notification of “x is typing”
  • No ability to pin messages – one can argue feature is not needed as pins should be stored on something like Confluence
  • Few integrations today
  • Cannot react – conversations are threaded though so you can comment

Lessons Learned

  • People really like to know when others are typing — real-time collaboration
  • People really want the ability to react to messages — better collaboration

Decision

  • Best option to date
  • Needs a few more features
  • Need more integrations

Rocket Chat

Differentiation

Pros

  • Tons of integrations
  • Tons of features
  • Straight forward administration
  • Price point is better at scale

Cons

  • No conversations — you can reply, but it posts the entire message and your reply every time (feature request open to address)
  • A little buggy — active/away indicator bug, no error for invalid image URL, etc

Lessons Learned

  • People really like what they already know (e.g. Slack) — change is hard
  • Even with all the features without something differentiating there is no reason to move — price could be a reason in the future

Decision

  • This is a replacement for Slack
  • We are already familiar with Slack and can leverage the free version for now

Missing

You will notice that several popular chat tools were missing from our testing:

  • Basecamp: Offers features we are already getting and need to get from other tools like Atlassian, G Suite, etc
  • Facebook Workspace: Something about using a personal social platform for work… plus all the negative press
  • Hipchat: Given Atlassian now has Stride we assume Stride is the future so skipped Hipchat
  • Microsoft Teams: We are not a Microsoft shop
  • Skype: I remember the days when Skype was the chat tool. Skype for Business is a joke (at least every implementation I have seen) and we are not a Microsoft shop

There are of course countless others that could be tried as well. We limited ourselves to one week of testing and picked the tools we thought had a chance beating out Slack.

Summary

Probably not too surprising, but Slack won. What is surprising is that the number two and three contenders are very comparable and have a chance against Slack. Here was are final prioritized list based on our requirements:

  1. Slack
  2. Rocket Chat
  3. Hangouts Chat
  4. Stride
  5. Twist

What chat tools do you use? What feature sets does your team care about the most?

© 2018, Steve Flanders. All rights reserved.

One thought on “Chat Tools Compared

  1. James says:

    Zulip and Mattermost are two other ones I’ve heard of, I haven’t looked in detail at either of them though.

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