Great Moments in Discoverability: Away in Slack

My colleagues at TidBITS and I use the Slack app so we can discuss article ideas and production. Ordinarily, I have Slack open on my Mac when I’m working and, ordinarily, I have my state set to “Active” (the default when Slack is running) so people know they can reach me.

However, sometimes I want to set my state to “Away” while still keeping the app open on my Mac. I do that so rarely, though, that I can never remember how to change my state, and it takes me a minute or so of poking around until I can find the command again. Slack doesn’t make finding it easy.

For starters, there’s no menu command to set the state. In fact, the menus on the Slack menubar don’t offer much at all.

Second, there are a bunch of unlabeled icons atop the Slack window’s content area, each of which might issue the state-setting command, but to find out what each icon does, I have to bring the Slack window to the front and then mouse over each icon, only to find out that none of them offer what I want.

Third, what Slack itself means by Status is not whether you are online or not. In Slack, your Status is a message associated with your username in the current workspace. Slack has no name for your state of being active or away.

Fourth, how Slack indicates your current state doesn’t leap out at you: it’s merely a tiny circle preceding your name at the top of the left sidebar—if it’s green, your state is Active.

That tiny indicator is the key to changing your state: click it and you get a popover with all sorts of settings. Slack, perversely, makes you read down to the fifth item in the list of settings to get to the one that actually displays and allows you to set your state; e.g., “Away Set yourself to active.”

Note that all the users shown in the Direct Messages list in the Slack window’s sidebar have such state indicators, but clicking those indicators does nothing, so one can be excused for assuming wrongly that clicking the indicator by your own name might be fruitless as well.

Sure, one can claim that Slack’s state toggle is discoverable. But such a commonly used toggle should not require three ships and a royal charter to be discovered.

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