Gliprsquos dashboard showing you files uploaded pending tasks and a basic calendar Glip

Glip’s dashboard showing you files uploaded, pending tasks, and a basic calendar.

Choosing among various Slack-like communication tools

Find the best team chat option that works for your company

We all spend too much time on email, and if your inbox is overflowing with messages from your coworkers, it might be time to investigate another way to communicate. There are many tools available that can help pull together a team communications with intranet-like features, text messaging, workflows and collaboration features.

These tools have been around for many years but lately it seems all anyone is talking about is Slack. In the past three years since the founder of Flickr launched Slack, it has become a juggernaut. While it certainly is popular, you shouldn’t just assume this is the only product worth considering.

Slack is sold as a SaaS-based freemium subscription: the free plan limits its features (most notably searching your 5 GB message archive and running up to 10 application integrations). The paid plans start at $8 per user per month, and they are working on enterprise pricing for later this year that will include team federation features. That doesn’t sound like a lot of dough until everyone starts becoming a Slacker at your company, which is what the company is counting on.

The alternatives to Slack include:

(See our comparison chart below for more information.)

These alternatives to Slack can cost less. Some have free editions and then there is Mattermost, which is entirely open source. There are other products that also cost a lot more too. It is important to review the distinctions between the free and paid versions to understand user or storage limitations and whether that will force you to ultimately pay for them as you get deeper into the product. For example, the free accounts for Bitrix24 have storage, task, and user limitations. (The company also sells an on-premises version that starts at $5,000 for 25 users.) With Glip, the free accounts don’t have any team size limits. With Yammer, the basic app is free, but if you want integrations with Office 365, you’ll need a subscription to edit and co-author documents in Yammer, and use the Yammer discussions inside of SharePoint and Skype.

But price alone shouldn’t be your sole criterion. There are other issues that you should look at, and here are some points to ponder.

  1. Do you need to build and integrate your own applications? One of the most compelling reasons to stick with Slack is its huge collection of integrations that will work with its messaging and notifications framework. There are dozens of third-party applications tied into its notification and messaging structure, including Google Docs, Dropbox, Trello, Skype, GitHub and ZenDesk, just to name a few. If this list isn’t impressive enough, you can easily write your own integration with a well-documented and simple API.  

But Slack isn’t the only tool that has this level of integration and extensibility. Mattermost is also compatible with Slack APIs so you can import users, public channel history and other features. They take Slack’s proprietary JSON payload format and translate the code into markdown to render in Mattermost messages. And HipChat’s API documentation is also excellent, making integrations easier too. If you are looking for comparisons, you might review this post that lists advantages here to using Mattermost over Slack or why Slack is better than HipChat here.

  1. What clients do you really need? One of the reasons for Slack’s popularity is that it has clients for many different systems, including Web, Windows, Mac and Linux desktops and various mobile devices. Some of the other tools have fewer clients but that may not be important, depending on what your team requires and how diverse your endpoint population is.
  2. What is the overall environment? One reason to use something other than Slack is who is the vendor behind it and how they are extending the communications to their other products. Microsoft has built Yammer into its Office and Skype products, Atlassian has done the same for HipChat and Jira, and RingCentral Office has combined its telephony features with Glip. If you already use the “mother ship” tools this could be a major attraction to also use their messaging app.
  3.  Do you need an on-premises implementation? Slack is strictly cloud-based but other vendors such as Atlassian, Bitrix24 and Mattermost offer a product that you can install on your own server for more privacy or perceived security. (Mattermost runs on Linux with either MySQL or Postgres database backend.)
  4. Who is on your team? Each product defines its workgroup differently: some like Glip work across the entire enterprise directory while others require each individual to be invited specifically to your team. This can make your chosen tool either just a text-chat session or a more useful and productive app. 

Team collaboration and messaging apps

Product

Pricing

SaaS/ on-premises

Telephony features

Integrated apps

Client versions

Bitrix24

Free, $39/user/mo

SaaS and on-premises

Up to 4 people

Numerous

Linux desktop, Mobile clients

Glip

Free, $25/user/mo

SaaS

Numerous

25

Mac, mobile clients

HipChat

Free, $2/user/mo

SaaS and on-premises

Limited

Numerous

Mac, Windows, Linux and mobile clients

Mattermost

Free

On-premises

None

Numerous

Mac, Windows, Linux and mobile clients

Slack

Free, $8/user/mo

SaaS

Numerous

>100

Mac, Windows, Linux and mobile clients

Tibbr

Starts at $3/user/mo

SaaS

Limited

>25

Mac, Windows, mobile clients

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