Category: Persistent Chat

The ChatOps War: The Battle Rages

Three major powers clash over and over. Challengers appear on the horizon. The productivity of millions hangs in the balance. Welcome back to the ChatOps War.

The Current State of ChatOps

Messaging apps. Online chat. Collaboration tools. Call them what you will. ChatOps (as I’ll refer to them here) have exploded across the business world in only a few years.

As with every new frontier, there’s a sort of ‘Wild West’ period. A few businesses pop up early, grabbing much of the attention & pushing growth forward. Then upstarts appear to claim slices of the pie. Big names in related industries wade in to crush the upstarts, early-stagers gear up…and everyone fights for market share.

That’s where we are now. Fighting stage. The War is on.

ChatOps War

Some battles are more intense than others.
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash.

Why take the time to examine it though? What’s the advantage in surveying the battle scenes? As long as people can use their preferred messaging app, everything’s fine…right?

While true, there are two reasons. One, not everyone can use the ChatOps platform they want to. More on that below.

Two, it takes time & effort to move a company onto any platform. Especially if they’re already on another platform! Migrations take time, cause user frustration, and drive up support costs (temporarily at least).

When you decide to move onto a ChatOps platform, you need to make sure it’s one that will:

  1. Stick around
  2. Do what you need it to
  3. Work well for your user base, AND
  4. Remain affordable.

Hence my reason for this post. Let’s see what’s happening in the ChatOps War.

Who’s On Top?

We have up-to-date information to start us off—a December 2018 survey conducted by Spiceworks. Love those guys.

Business Chat Apps in 2018: Top Players and Adoption Plans

The biggest move came from Microsoft Teams. It surged ahead in 2018, surpassing Slack to become the #2 collaboration tool in the business world. (Microsoft’s moves to place Teams front and center in O365 certainly contribute to Teams’ growth.)

Who’s #1? Skype for Business, of course. For now at least…its own cousin wants the crown.

Wrestling with Messaging App Choices

Watch out, he’s going for the nose! What would the ‘nose’ be in a messaging app?
Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash.

The Defeated

Workplace, Facebook’s entry into messaging apps, died out of the gate. It’s not a terrible chat offering, as I mentioned in my 2017 review. But it didn’t really hold its own against Slack or Skype for Business, and Facebook’s overall privacy problems kneecapped Workplace as well.

The Challengers Nipping at Heels

I became aware last year of several newer, standalone ChatOps services. I do plan more extensive reviews of the services later this year, but for now, let’s meet the ‘Challengers.’

TWISTTwist.com
This is a chat offering by the makers of Todoist, a popular to-do list app. You see this reflected in Twist’s structure: It’s somewhat like a group chat/email hybrid. Very similar to Teams in its Conversation-based structure. Twist’s makers tout its structure as superior to Slack, by using threaded conversations everywhere (thus making all communication easier to follow). It’s a subtle shift, but notable enough.

MATTERMOSTMatterMost.org
Mattermost acts a lot like Slack. With one MAJOR difference – it’s self-hosted. You run Mattermost on your own servers. It’s an on-prem chat platform!

The standard version is free, with a two-tier paid version that adds in Active Directory/LDAP integration, faster support, and several other useful tools. The Mattermost software runs on Linux, and has apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android…and of course Linux PCs.

Slack does have a Linux app, so this isn’t ‘Slack for Linux.’ It’s an open-source, on-prem alternative. Not quite as refined as Slack, but users report good experiences with it.

ZOOMZoom.us
Wait, Zoom? Don’t they just do video conferencing? Yes, and they do a pretty good job of it as I understand. But it turns out they have a messaging app bundled in too—Zoom Chat!

Zoom’s primary focus remains on conferencing, and rightfully so. The Chat app looks like Slack’s younger cousin. Useful, but meant as a supplement to the video tools. A good value-add.

———

These challengers for the most part have simpler feature sets and a nimbler approach to ChatOps. They’re definitely aiming for Teams/Slack’s heels as well. How much market share they win over will depend, I think, on two things:

  1. Which chat features/structures become the most popular among businesses
  2. Microsoft’s Teams expansion efforts
ChatOps Competitor

I will take your customers…and your treats!
Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash.

Skype4B’s Crown is Under Threat

At this point, Microsoft has forced Skype for Business almost completely out of the small business sector in favor of Teams. This will not get better. Skype4B will eventually lose its crown to Teams. We all knew this of course…but it’s here. It’s happening as you read this.

Enterprises still have the on-prem Skype for Business Server 2019 version, of course. I remain convinced that this will be the last on-prem version Microsoft will release though. By the time we’d roll around to a new server version—2021 or 2022—everyone using ChatOps will either be on Teams, Slack, or a challenger. They will all have full Enterprise Voice capability. Phones, video, and chat will all mesh together.

Now, let me give a prediction about Google Hangouts. You saw several ChatOps players in this post…but I’ll bet you noticed that Google Hangouts was not among them. That’s because I predict Google Hangouts won’t become a threat. Not to Skype for Business or to Teams.

The Spiceworks survey indicates that Google Hangouts use went up from 2016-2018…11% to 18% adoption rates, respectively. That’s because Google targets enterprise users with its Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet products. Moving away from smaller G-Suite customers and potentially alienating them. Thanks to challengers like Twist, Google can no longer make the ‘easier to use’ claim that kept them around.

I also think Google’s privacy concerns and business practices will scare off enterprises in next 2 years. The fact that Google split Hangouts in two, coupled with appealing value propositions from Teams, also throw some tacks on the road.

2019 Will Bring Winners and Losers in the ChatOps War

Now we know the state of the ChatOps War. But there’s plenty more to come!

2019 is a ‘Battle Year,’ where we’ll see promotion, feature adds/updates, rises and falls. I could easily see any of the following occur:

  • Microsoft shortens its Skype for Business sunset schedule (UPDATE: Microsoft announced that it will shut down Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021.)
  • Google buys Slack (please don’t)
  • A challenger like Twist or Mattermost starts eating into Teams’ market share, due to their independent-of-Microsoft nature
  • Former HipChat engineers come out with something new & exciting
  • Workplace and/or Hangouts quietly dies

This is something on which I’ll keep as close an eye as I can. Directly—we’re fielding Teams requests in the office, and at least one customer uses Slack. All from businesses under 100 employees.

Next post I’ll go into choosing your own chat platform. If you’re looking at all these options and wondering what the best choice is for your business? The next post will help you make that determination. Check back soon!

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Dissecting the Free Teams Offering

Microsoft has released Teams as a free offering. No Office 365 account required. But how viable is it as a standalone chat app?

That’s what we’re looking at today. I’ve setup a fresh Teams account for testing. We’re looking at how useful it is for everyday communications, what limits exist compared to Office 365’s Teams, and how this may or may not affect Skype for Business.

I will share this up front – I don’t think a free Teams harms Skype for Business at this stage. But it may harm another Microsoft property.

Setting Up a Free Teams Account

Normally, Microsoft requires you to use a Microsoft Account with its offerings. In the case of the Team free offering, they’ve relaxed this requirement. They only require “any corporate or consumer email address.”

I do have a Microsoft Account for my work email, of course. But I decided against using it for this test. Why? I read some comments on TechCommunity indicating a problem with registering a free Teams offering, and then later trying to set up Teams in Office 365. If you use an email associated with an Office 365 tenant already, or one you may associate in the future, Teams will try to set you up in Office 365 instead.

There’s also this comment by Microsoft’s Albert Chen, which references a one-Teams-only limitation for email addresses:

Albert Chen Microsoft Teams

The highlight reads, “Currently, each email can only sign-up for one Teams free organization, however you can be invited into both of them.”

We may just have a growing pain here. But I opted not to take the chance. Instead, I used a Gmail account I set up years ago for Google-related reports at work. That way I don’t cause any trouble if the office decides to move to Teams later on. (Which we might…)

Setting up “Teams Free” is very simple. Head to https://products.office.com/en-US/microsoft-teams/free and enter your email address. The setup is entirely guided and only takes a few steps, so I’ll skip detailing it here. Suffice to say it’s no more difficult than signing up for a new Skype Consumer account.

Once I’d completed setup, clicked the Get Started link in the welcome email, and downloaded the Teams desktop app? Off to the races!

Teams Welcome Screen

Features and Limitations in Teams Free

At first glance, Teams Free looks exactly like its Office 365 brother. To a large degree, they share feature sets. But, with any free offering, you’d expect some limitations…and Teams is no different.

What’s Available:
Unlimited Chat? Check.
Teams Channels (as many as you want)? Check.
Activity Feed? Check.

Teams Chat Options

There’s our old friend “Meet Now.”

File storage/sharing? Check.
Third-party add-ons? Check.
Audio and video calls? Check and check.

You have your choice of desktop and/or mobile apps. Even our little buddy T-Bot shows up. In terms of everyday chat and calls, Teams Free works just like Office 365 Teams.

What’s NOT Available:
According to the Teams Free page details, the free version does NOT have:

  • Exchange email hosting
  • Custom email domains
  • Full-version OneDrive, SharePoint, Planner, Yammer, and more Office 365 services
  • Scheduled Meetings
  • Meeting/call recordings

Finally, it has a file storage cap of 2GB/user (with a max 10GB of shared storage).

Most of these limitations make sense. Teams Free operates outside of the Office 365 ecosystem (technically), which means no direct access to shared services and email functionality. The rest seem meant to restrict the file storage needed on Microsoft’s side. As well as provide incentive to upgrade!

Teams Free

The Upgrade button is under “Manage Org” in your profile.

Teams Free’s Effect on Skype for Business: Negligible

We already know Teams will eventually replace Skype for Business within Office 365. Teams Free isn’t likely to hurt those plans…in fact it’ll likely help them, as freemium offerings have in the past.

My question is, will Teams Free hurt Skype for Business Server? I don’t think so. Consider the differences in setup, and the feature approach each takes.

Simpler Setup. The setup process for Teams Free roughly equates to Slack’s in terms of time. That is much faster than Skype for Business setup, but they have different audiences. Skype for Business Server addresses comprehensive communications needs for larger businesses. Teams and Slack, however, target smaller businesses who move fast & prefer chat apps just as quick.

Small-Business Features vs. Enterprise Capacity. Teams Free has a 300-user limit. Skype for Business Server does not. Companies using Skype for Business Server likely have regulatory compliance requirements. Teams users likely don’t.

If anything, Teams Free will hurt Slack’s user base. With a fresh, free offering, Microsoft may lure existing Slack users away from their paid accounts. The timing may even capture some soon-to-be-former HipChat & Stride users.

However, I can’t say Teams Free won’t hurt another Microsoft communications tool…

Will This Hurt Skype? That May Be the Plan

Microsoft’s offering Teams Free as a chat platform for everyone. They can send messages, call people, even do video. All it takes is an email address. Sound like anything else to you?

ChatOps War

Surprise takedown! Hey, aren’t you on my team…?
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Sounds like Skype Consumer to me. Which may be the point. Microsoft may want to reduce Skype Consumer’s use in the workplace by wedging in Teams Free.

In total, releasing Teams for free accomplishes three goals:

  1. Competing more directly with Slack
  2. Attracting more people & businesses to the full Office 365 suite
  3. Luring small businesses & some individuals away from Skype onto Teams

Why do Goal #3? I think because it feeds into Goal #2. Many businesses use Skype Consumer for day-to-day communications. It’s free, it works (well enough), and it’s simple to use. Now we have Teams Free, which meets all those criteria and even expands on the feature set.

Does this mean Microsoft will shutter Skype Consumer? It’s possible…but I wouldn’t hold my breath just yet. They have bigger moves to make.

Teams Free is Late to the Battle, But Don’t Dismiss its Power

There’s one more factor to consider in Teams Free adoption: Existing Teams users. Smaller businesses may opt to cancel their Office 365 subscriptions and move to Teams Free, if they don’t need all of the features full-version Teams offers. Add in Slack or HipChat/Stride users who didn’t want to buy into the Office 365 ecosystem before, and Teams Free may build up its user base via poaching.

The ChatOps War continues to rage. It’s already claimed casualties. Teams Free is up against entrenched opponents. But it presents a good-enough-for-most feature set and a stable platform. The coming months may see quite a leap in its adoption.

Are you using Teams Free in your business? Please share how well it works for you in the comments!

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Scenes from the ChatOps War

Group Messaging/Chat continues to expand, as each challenger battles its competitors. Here’s where we stand.

Slack and Teams Stay Neck-and-Neck

These two are ‘the’ names when it comes to ChatOps (business-grade chat/messaging platforms).

Slack VS Teams

“En garde, Slack!” “I say, Teams!”

Teams continues to expand its user base. It’s up to 200,000 organizations as of March 2018. But we don’t know how many individual users that is; Microsoft hasn’t said. It has huge potential to grow further, especially once it’s finished absorbing Skype for Business by end of year (give or take).

Conversely, Slack has more than 6 million daily active users! 2 million of these are paying customers. Even without the free tier, Slack stomps all over Teams in terms of business usage.

Two heavyweights battling it out encourages good competition and ultimately benefits the user. However, the market has more contenders…and they aren’t sitting idle either.

Integration Comes to Workplace (though Slack and Teams are Well Ahead)

Facebook’s Workplace just added an integration feature with a bunch of potential add-ons. Thanks to the integration, Workplace users can now connect services like Microsoft SharePoint, Hubspot, Jira (project management), and so on.

Workplace by Facebook LogoThe full list is here: Workplace Integrations.

While this is a welcome move, it’s also a catch-up move. Slack and Teams have had third-party integration capabilities almost since inception. They also have many more integrations available.

Looks like Facebook wants to keep Workplace as a separate, work-friendly brand. If so, they’ll continue to face an uphill battle, due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and ongoing privacy concerns. Because of these concerns, my Workplace trial ended with the question of whether businesses would try Workplace out.

So far, it would appear they have. At least 30,000 businesses now use Workplace. Still in third place, and they’ll have to keep pushing. But the user count does put Workplace in striking range of Teams. A new theater has opened up in Facebook vs. Microsoft.

Other Competitors Nipping at the Big Dogs’ Heels

There’s more than just Workplace to watch out for though. I’ve mentioned Atlassian Stride and Google Hangouts on this blog before. What’s going on with them?

Atlassian StrideStride (formerly HipChat) hit General Availability in March. As it’s so new, user numbers aren’t readily available. I’m curious to see how this one goes…it looks near-identical to Teams, although some beta users complained about audio/video quality.

Google split Hangouts in two last year, creating Hangouts Meet (video meetings) and Hangouts Chat (group chats, like Slack/Teams). Not sure why they split them, but hey, I don’t work at Google.Google Hangouts Icon

This strikes me as an after-the-fact change…after Slack roared past Hangouts, they had to race to keep up. However, there are two smart moves within the split:

  1. Voice is part of Meet only. Google restricted Chat to…chat. Meet focuses on video calls, of which voice is just a part, but it centralizes the audio/video experience into one app. Makes it easy to know which app to use.
  2. Google integrated Hangouts Meet/Chat into the G-Suite. Like Teams is part of Office 365, Hangouts Meet & Chat are there for G-Suite business users. The tactic worked for Teams; I bet Google’s hoping this will work for Hangouts.

The Reason Behind the Battle: Chat’s Multi-Generational Appeal

Why is chat so popular all of a sudden? I think it’s because chat is an intergenerational medium. It’s something the past few generations have grown up using. It’s also something that’s ‘grown up’ through successive generations of the technology.

In the Internet’s early days you had BBSes and IRC.
Then along came AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo Messenger.
Next came Skype, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Now we have Slack, Stride, Teams, Fuze, Hangouts, and several more.

Each generation had a chat platform for communication. Chat itself went through generations, advancing in capability, expanding in reach. Now we have a generation of chat platforms that can handle almost any form of communication.

arm wrestling photo

Hey hey, no cheating!
Photo by mcgrayjr

But it’s all centered around the oldest, simplest, and most familiar communication method most of us have ever known…plain, direct, text-to-text messaging.

Where the Battle Goes Next: Long-Term Teamwork Value

ChatOps have one mission: to facilitate teamwork. You can generally tell how well they do this by adoption and frequency of use.

However, short-term numbers aren’t the best indication of value to a team. Long-term adoption rates, after the novelty wears off and the team becomes accustomed to using the platform, determine who will win the “ChatOps War.”

So far, Slack and Hangouts have been around the longest. Between those two, people obviously prefer Slack. It has greater long-term teamwork value. Teams and Workplace are coming up, and Stride is a wildcard. By this time next year, we may see the triumph of Teams, the emergence of Stride, or another challenger rise.

Which ChatOps platform does your workplace use? What are your thoughts on it?

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How to Stay Vigilant Over Office Chat: Implement a Messaging Policy

If someone published your office’s chat logs, would you be okay with it…or wince at what people will find in them?

Most of us are in the latter category. I’m not even sure I’d be okay with it! But I’m at least certain that our chat logs are clean of intellectual property and PII. How do I know that? After reading this post, you’ll understand.

What’s Going On in Your Office’s Chat App?

This topic came from an article I saw in NewsDay yesterday: Workplace messaging apps offer flexibility, require vigilance – NewsDay.com

The article reminds readers to stay vigilant over their messaging apps: Teams, Slack, Skype for Business, HipChat/Stride and the like. Good advice.

But let’s go further. HOW do we stay vigilant? How could we make sure employees stick to work-related (or perhaps I should say “work-appropriate”) conversation topics?

The article gives the following as a solution: “Firms should institute a workplace messaging policy and outline best practices to avoid abuse or unwanted distractions.” True! But there isn’t much beyond that.

Fortunately, keeping office chat to office topics isn’t too hard. In fact, we can take care of it in less than 10 minutes. In this post I’m laying out a way to not only institute a workplace messaging policy, but use human psychology to enforce it!

Institute A 3-Part Workplace Messaging Policy
First, if you don’t have a messaging policy in place already, make one. Here’s a simple workplace messaging policy anyone can use. It’s simple, only has 3 parts, and works for all messaging apps.

  1. All messaging clients are set to Full Logging.
  2. All conversations are kept in logs. If you’re chatting, your conversation is logged.
  3. All logs are included in the company’s regular backup schedule.

Okay, now you have your policy. Next, we have to spread the word. All employees need to know about this.

Give All Employees a 5-Minute Policy Brief

Informing all employees of a messaging policy only takes 5 minutes. Send them the following details via email. Or announce it at an all-hands gathering. Or send a message in chat!

  1. Tell everyone that the conversations are logged.
  2. Tell them where the logs are kept.
  3. Tell them the logs are backed up, where, and why.
  4. Employees must avoid discussing confidential material via messaging (e.g. banking information, PII).
  5. Work-related conversations should stay work-appropriate. If you need to chat about personal matters, do so privately.
  6. Finally, tell them you may use information from chat logs in customer meetings or quote documents.

That’s it!

Messaging Policy for Office Chat

You can be a LITTLE more specific than this…

Human Psychology Helps You Enforce This Policy

Seems too simple, right? There must be a trick. And there is…but it’s one you don’t need to do anything about. It works because humans think & act in certain ways.

Informing people of chat logs & why you’re backing them up isn’t just for their edification. It also creates an impression in their mind. Think about this—when you walk into a store and see one of those, “Smile! You’re on camera” signs, doesn’t it trigger an unconscious reaction? “Oh, right, better not do anything dumb.”

Nobody’s assuming you went there to shoplift or cause a scene. But the impression still pops into your head. The same thing happens with a messaging policy. When people know their work conversations are recorded…they tend to self-police.

(There’s always an exception, but we’re talking in general terms here.)

You can periodically remind employees of the policy by referencing the conversation logs. Any reason will do…here’s a couple I dredged up from our own office’s 2017 conversations:

  • “I don’t have X’s email. Is it in your conversation history?”
  • “Customer B wants to know status on their migration. Didn’t you guys talk about that in chat yesterday? Could you send me the log?”

These act as subtle reminders. The logs exist. Chats are recorded. Make sure you stick to work stuff!

Setting Up Logs for Backup

In order to fulfill this messaging policy, you’ll need to keep backups of chat conversation logs. I seriously hope you’re doing this anyway…but if not, let me give you a reminder!

backup photo

A badly-needed keyboard addition!
Photo by Got Credit

  • Server logs: Included with server backups. (If you’re not backing up servers, call us immediately!) For Skype for Business Server deployments, make sure the Centralized Logging Service is enabled.
  • Desktop Client logs: Capture logs from users’ computers by including these folders in their workstation backups.
    • Skype for Business 2016: %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Lync\Tracing
    • Lync 2013/Skype for Business 2015: %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Lync\Tracing
    • Web App Log location: %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\LWAPlugin\Tracing (File name: LWAJSPersistent#.log)
  • Cloud logs (Teams, Slack): These are backed up by their respective cloud services. If you want to pull down extra copies for your own backups, here’s some help:

Workplace Messaging Policy: A Good Idea for All Teams, Slack, Skype4B Users

By now you’ve figured out why I’m not worried about our chat logs. Yes, we have a messaging policy here at PlanetMagpie. It’s more or less the same as what you just read. We’re on Skype for Business Server; the policy addresses our Instant Messaging Conversations.

You can expand on this messaging policy, of course. It all depends on how your office uses chat apps. That way you make sure they’re sticking to work-appropriate topics!

Do you use a messaging policy now? What kind?

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How to Use Teams Slash Commands (and Where They Come From)

Teams is getting slash commands!

Microsoft announced several updates for Teams this week.

Most blog posts I saw emphasize the new integrations. While indeed helpful, that wasn’t what caught my eye. Nope…that was the introduction of slash commands!

Those of us who’ve been online for a long time know these already. But in case you aren’t familiar, let’s go through what slash commands are. I think you’ll find them an incredible timesaver.

What is a Slash Command?

A slash command is a short typed phrase, preceded by a slash (/), which causes a specific action within an app. They’re meant to make some everyday functions quick & easy to activate, without your hands leaving the keyboard.

The most common slash command is likely “/away” which sets your status to Away. They can do much more than that, however! When used in a chat app, slash commands let you join a channel, invite other users into a channel, mark yourself as away/busy/available, and dozens of other things.

Where Slash Commands Come From

Slash Commands have been around for a LONG time. I first used them in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms back in the 90s. These pages have lists of the slash commands you could use in IRC.

List of Internet Relay Chat Commands – Wikipedia
Basic IRC Commands – IRCBeginner

IRC Slash Commands

Examples of IRC slash commands, with use cases. Very Web 1.0 chic, huh?

(Wow, this makes me feel old.)

Nowadays you’ll find slash commands used in major chat platforms like Slack, HipChat, and now Teams!

Slack clearly copied the most popular IRC commands, and expanded on them. You can see the similarities in their slash command list: List of Slack’s Slash Commands
I always had the sense that Slack’s founders were old IRC users like me.

HipChat’s slash commands are a little more involved. But they appear no less easy to use: Keyboard Shortcuts and Slash Commands – HipChat

Even Google Hangouts has some, but they’re mostly limited to fun animations.

Teams joins an illustrious tradition by introducing slash commands. So which commands do Teams users now have?

List of Slash Commands in Teams

Start using slash commands by typing a slash in Teams’ “Search or type a command” box. A list of slash commands will pop up below it for your selection/reference.

empty office chair photo

Status: /away.
Photo by Reinis Traidas

  • /activity – View someone’s activity
  • /available – Changes your Teams status to “Available”
  • /away – Changes your Teams status to “Away”
  • /busy – Changes your Teams status to “Busy”
  • /call – Initiate a call
  • /dnd – Changes your Teams status to “Do Not Disturb”
  • /files – See your recent files
  • /goto – Go to a certain team or channel
  • /help – Get help (with Teams; not the ‘lie on the couch’ kind)
  • /join – Join a team
  • /keys – View keyboard shortcuts
  • /mentions – See all of your mentions (handy if your Teams channels are really busy!)
  • /org – View an org chart (yours or someone else’s)
  • /saved – View your saved list
  • /unread – See all of your unread activity
  • /whatsnew – Check what’s new in Teams
  • /who – Ask Who (a new app that lets you search for people by name or topic) a question

This is the list that comes up in Teams now. We may see more slash commands added over time.

How to Use a Slash Command in Teams

Most slash commands are standalone—they don’t need anything other than the command name to work. But it’s good to know about slash command syntax as well.

After typing a slash command in Teams, you can add parameters after it. These can be other users’ names, or switches that specify the command’s target. Not unlike adding parameters to PowerShell cmdlets.

Let’s go through some examples:
/away – Let’s say I want to mark myself as Away, but I want to make it clear that I’ve got my cellphone with me. I could type the following:

“/away Got my cell if you need me”

Like Skype for business’ Presence, right? Unfortunately status messages like these are not displayed in Teams yet. It is on the roadmap though, so I wanted to point out how easy this is.

/goto – Let’s say I want to open the “Business Development” channel. When you enter slash commands like /goto, a list of available options will appear below the command field. You can either type out the location you want, or click to select it from the list.

Goto Slash Command in Teams
Oh look! There’s the Business Development channel. One click and I’m on my way.

/invite – Want to add someone into your channel? The /invite command lets you do so without leaving the channel. Just type /invite “TheirUserName” and done!

Like Keyboard Shortcuts (but Better), Slash Commands Speed Up Working in Teams

Think of slash commands like shortcuts. They let you skip several mouse clicks and loading screens. You just type out a word, add whatever parameter you want, and Teams does the rest.

The old IRC nut in me very much appreciates having slash commands once again. This was a surprise to see on the Teams update list—but a welcome one!

What do you think about having slash commands in Teams?

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Skype for Business News: Skype4B Becomes Teams (Maybe), Teams Gets Guest Access (Sort Of)

If Microsoft wanted to stir up controversy before the Ignite 2017 conference…they sure succeeded!

Last week the Skype for Business community got two major announcements. One appears accidental. The other was not. But both have certainly drummed up a lot of speculation, confusion, and derision.

Not without cause either. Let’s take a good hard look at what we know, and what we think we know, about Microsoft’s future plans for Skype for Business and Teams.

Teams Absorbing Skype for Business?

Hallo Teams, Goodbye Skype? – MS Tech Community

First, the accidental announcement. On September 7, sharp-eyed Office 365 users caught this screenshot after logging in.

skype for business now teams

Image courtesy of Petri.com.

It was quickly removed after social media lit up.

Later the same day, Microsoft posted a message to the O365 admin portal, saying the company planned on “upgrading” Skype for Business to Teams over the next year. They specified that since it’s early-stages for such a move, the change is opt-in, and no one needs to do anything.

Then it removed THAT message a few minutes later.

Further calls for Microsoft to elaborate, to my knowledge, have gone unanswered.

Tony Redmond at Petri.com speculates that this could mean a new client, melding Teams’ chat functions with Skype4B’s voice & IM tools. If this is indeed moving forward, a “universal” Teams/Skype4B client does make a lot of sense.

Others expressed concern that folding Skype for Business into Teams would end up becoming a mess that wrecks both platforms. Still others decried what they see as Microsoft throwing them yet another branding curveball.

I think they’re ALL right.

If true, this was a damaging leak for Microsoft. It belies a migration path few asked for, and clearly some do not want. Either Microsoft has some explaining to do, or they’re about to take two well-received communications systems and smash them together. Because they can.

This really wasn’t the change I anticipated. I expected the reverse would happen: Skype for Business would absorb Teams’ chat and group functions. Replacing Persistent Chat (which, though I love it, is probably the least-used S4B tool).

All that said, there is one point with which I agree. Most of the other communications platforms out there – Slack, Cisco’s Spark, Fuze, HipChat – use short, easy-to-remember brand names. “Teams” as a brand name, is shorter and easier to recall than “Skype for Business.”

Maybe Teams’ initial success prompted Microsoft to explore expanding its brand. We’ll see pretty soon.

Teams Gets its Guest Access! (Sort of. Eventually?)

A full quarter after Microsoft had originally planned to release Teams guest access…it’s arrived.

Kind of. Maybe.

Microsoft Adds Guest Access to Teams – ZDNet

Microsoft announced the new Guest Access feature on September 11. According to the existing details, here’s how Guest Access works.

Stage 1: Anyone with an existing Azure Active Directory account (e.g. an Office 365 user) can now be added as a Teams guest user. (Occurring Now)
Stage 2: Anyone with a free Microsoft Account (MSA) can be added as a Teams guest user. (Coming Soon)
Stage 3: Anyone with a valid email address can be added as a Teams guest user. (The ideal, but I don’t know when this is happening!)

What kind of reaction did this get? Take a wild guess. No, worse than that.

I went over to UserVoice to see what others had to say:
External Access and Federation: Microsoft Teams UserVoice

UserVoice Teams Guest Access

The thread has exploded with almost-universal cries of disappointment. At time of this post’s publication, there are 563 comments. Just over 80 of them came in after the Guest Access announcement. Nearly all of those are negative.

People are trying & failing to enable Guest Access. Reporting big bugs (failure to add guests on mobile, for example). Pointing out that this is NOT what the users asked for.

My thoughts? I agree. This is not what users asked for. This is not Guest Access. It’s just a type of federation.

If adding guest access were only a case of a few bugs, I’d understand. Teams is a cloud offering; that means a huge variety of possible use cases. A few bugs aren’t a big deal.

However, this isn’t just bugs. This is a major stumbling block. Microsoft has taken Teams, a rapidly-growing product, and put the brakes on its growth.

They have effectively told users, “No, you will invite who we say you can invite, when we say you can. You don’t like it? What are you going to do, leave Office 365?”

And the thing is, that’s exactly what they will do. If a big part of users’ Office 365 experience doesn’t work how they work, they WILL leave the service and go elsewhere. Slack already lets you invite whomever you want. Same with Teams’ other competitors.

If I were Slack, Google, Fuze, or even Cisco, I’d work furiously to make some productivity-related software available to my chat customers. Integrate with a cloud email provider (or create one). Partner with LibreOffice or a cloud-based office app service.

You’ve already got a good assortment of chat/voice/video tools. Add productivity tools, and you’ll give Microsoft’s user base an option that actually caters to their needs.

(I don’t say this to drive people away from Teams, or Skype for Business. I say this because it’s probably the only way to make Microsoft listen!)

Ignite Has Some Explaining to Do

We are less than 2 weeks away from Ignite. 115 of the planned sessions involve Teams. 80 sessions involve Skype4B (many of which overlap).

These presenters have some explaining to do. I hope we get some solid answers.

Are you going to Ignite? If so, please make note to share your experience with us in the comments! I’m sadly unable to attend, but you can bet I’ll keep track of the results.

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How Do Skype for Business, Teams, and Slack Meet Compliance Regulations?

We recently talked about SOX compliance in our regular newsletter, “WOOF!” The full article is here: 5 Big Benefits Your Company Gains from SOX – WOOF! March 2017

(Yes, there are actually benefits to SOX compliance. Weird, huh?)

It made me think of how I (very briefly) mentioned compliance in The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business). Have I ever examined Skype for Business on its compliance? Not in detail, I hadn’t.

Well, since I’m thinking about it, why not? Let’s see what I can find on compliance!

What Do I Mean by Compliance?

Compliance is a term for your business meeting certain legal requirements. When it comes to communications, compliance means maintaining records of conversations, in case legal entities (e.g. government) need to review those records in an audit or lawsuit.

That means the records must include chat logs, voicemail, voicemail transcripts, and emails. Anything your employees used to communicate and direct business activity.

Library of Compliance Regulations

“Compliance requirements are clearly stated in Volume XIX Section 14, Paragraphs A-F.”
“Wait, where?!”

Several compliance standards exist: SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley), HIPAA, EUMC (EU Model Classes), ISO 27001, etc. If you have to meet one, keeping those records is now a legal requirement. Only option you have is, which solution do you go with?

There are far more potential solutions out there than I could cover in one blog post. For today, I’m covering four communications tools: Skype for Business (Server and Online), Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Let’s see how they stack up.

How Slack Meets Compliance Regulations: Compliance Reports

Good news, Slack users. Your choice of chat app has built-in compliance…and it has since 2014.

Slack has a Compliance Reports feature, which allows you to export all team communications, thereby satisfying compliance requirements.
Slack announced Compliance Reports in a 2014 blog post: Slack’s policy update: What it means for you (November 2014)

Compliance Reports is part of the Slack Plus plan. It’s available to Team Owners. The catch is, it’s NOT enabled by default. You have to request Slack enable it. (The procedure to do so is in the blog post.)

Also, Compliance Reports is NOT retroactive. Once it’s active, it begins archiving channels, private messages, edit history…from that point forward. So if you’re already using Slack, and want to add in Compliance Reports? Better copy out all the old conversations, just in case.

How Skype for Business (Server) Meets Compliance Regulations: Archiving Menagerie

Ah, my old friend. How’s your compliance?
Very good, thank you. Just needs some setup.

First, the Exchange Server. Exchange has well-developed compliance features. So much so that Exchange 2016 will archive some Skype for Business content within its own In-Place Archiving feature:

“You can archive instant messaging conversations and shared online meeting documents in the user’s primary mailbox. The mailbox must reside on an Exchange 2016 Mailbox server and you must have Skype for Business Server 2015 deployed in your organization.”

In-Place Archiving in Exchange 2016 – TechNet


Next, Persistent Chat’s Compliance service. Once activated, this service maintains an archive of Persistent Chat messages, as well as activities. When people join/leave chat rooms, upload/download files, etc.

Setup is relatively simple. You only need to use one cmdlet, configured by identity or instance.

Set-CsPersistentChatComplianceConfiguration [-Identity ] ((COMMON PARAMETERS))

or

Set-CsPersistentChatComplianceConfiguration [-Instance ] ((COMMON PARAMETERS))

Parameters available are as follows:

  • AdapterType – Lets you specify the adapter type (XML default).
  • OneChatRoomPerOutputFile – Lets you specify that separate reports to be created for each chat room.
  • AddChatRoomDetails – Records details about each chat room in the database. Disabled by default, since it can inflate the database with lots of activity.
  • AddUserDetails – Records details about each chat room user in the database. Also disabled by default, for the same reason.
  • Identity – Lets you scope compliance settings for a particular collection (Global, Site, Service levels). Global is the default.
  • RunInterval – Dictates the amount of time before the server creates the next compliance output file (default: 15 minutes).

Thirdly, Archiving Server.
Does your Skype for Business deployment include an Archiving Server? If not, and you have compliance requirements, you should do so right away. (Here’s how to deploy an Archiving Server if you don’t have one yet.)

Archiving Server maintains an archive containing:

  • Peer-to-peer instant messages
  • Conferences (meetings), which are multiparty instant messages
  • Conference content, including uploaded content (for example, handouts) and event-related content (for example, joining, leaving, uploading sharing, and changes in visibility)
  • Whiteboards and polls shared during a conference

My old post on what Archiving Server archives. (Hmmm, I should update that one…)

Once this three-part setup is complete, your Skype for Business Server is keeping track of its conversations. Add a good backup system, and you should be fully compliant in case of audit (or litigation).

How Skype for Business (Online) Meets Compliance Regulations: Trust and eDiscover in the Cloud

As Microsoft says in the Office 365 Admin’s Security & Compliance menu:

“It’s your data. You own it. So we’ve developed features that let you take charge of how and when it is stored, used, and retained or removed.”

Office 365 Trust Center, Compliance

I view Skype for Business Online the same way I do Slack. The records themselves are archived and available. However, since Office 365 products are cloud-based, eDiscovery becomes much more important. You’ll need to locate & extract content as-needed in the event of an audit.

Fortunately, Microsoft put up a slew of information about O365’s eDiscovery capabilities: eDiscovery in Office 365.

For instance, the Content Search tool will search mailboxes, public folders, Skype for Business conversations, and more. Then you export the results (in different formats, like a PST for each mailbox or individual messages) and incorporate the files into your audit process.

How Microsoft Teams Meets Compliance Regulations: Information Protection…But is it Complete?

The Teams FAQ reports that Teams does retain all messages. We also have this:

What forms of information protection does Microsoft Teams support?
Archiving, Content Search, eDiscovery, legal hold, and audit logs are available via the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center for chats and channel messages, OneNote content, OneDrive for Business files, and SharePoint content.

At the same time, compliance tools are listed as “Working on It” here:
https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/17030296-compliance
Commenters spoke urgently of the need to confirm Teams’ compliance policies.

Now, that could just be out of date. The FAQs are maintained, so they’re likely the latest-and-greatest information. Especially since Teams is an Office 365 product, which is compliant with several industry certifications anyway. The same eDiscovery tools available to Skype for Business Online, are available to Teams. At least according to Microsoft.

Compliance or Lawyer Visit

You don’t want a visit from someone wearing these. Stay compliant!

My Verdict: All Will Meet (Most) Compliance Regulations As-Is

In terms of compliance “thoroughness,” I’d rank these in the following order:

  1. Skype for Business Server. The most work to set up, but the most control over archiving.
  2. Slack/Skype for Business Online. Less work involved, since most of the archiving is done for you, and retrieval features are available. That said, these do use cloud services, which places (most of) the data outside your network.
  3. Teams. I put this one last because it’s still so new. It does fall under Office 365’s Trust Center guidelines, and does facilitate archival. But since it’s in early adoption stages, the need to verify compliance hasn’t come up in large numbers yet. Will Teams fully satisfy legal compliance for the businesses who use it? I think it will…but we may have a few businesses hitting bumps when they begin an eDiscovery process.

How big of a factor is legal compliance in your communications choices? Please comment or email. I’m also curious to note which type of compliance hits your business the most (if you’re able & willing to share, of course).

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Teams vs. Skype for Business: Which to Choose?

A tug-of-war is brewing among Microsoft users. (I wouldn’t call it a ‘war’…we’re all reasonable folks, right?)

The question is, which app do we use: Skype for Business, Teams, or both?

Different Apps for Different Communications

Looking at them in terms of approach, Teams and Skype for Business are quite different.

SKYPE FOR BUSINESS: A server-based or cloud-hosted platform meant to replace phones, give the office full Meetings capability, and connect a suite of communications tools to Office apps & email.

TEAMS: A cloud-hosted chat-based communications tool (with extras, like Online Meetings), adding onto the existing toolset. Also connects with Office apps.

Office Chat

The online equivalent of this should be just as easy to arrange. Photo by Chris Hunkeler

Ostensibly, each element in those descriptions would influence a business’ decision to adopt. You might even consider using both, given their respective strengths.

Problem is, there’s also lots of overlap. Too much to make a decision easy.

If you’re looking at Teams and currently use Skype for Business:
You might think, “We already have most of the tools. Why add more?”
Hearing from users who have both, we know that they experience 2 sets of notification alerts. They’re often confused over which tool to use for calls or meetings. They also have 2 sets of conversation history to deal with (1 stored in Outlook, the other in Teams’ channels).

If you’re looking at Teams and don’t use Skype for Business:
You may ask, “Do we want to try out this chat app instead of Slack/Hipchat/Workplace?”
Teams is good to start with, IF you already use Office 365. But even then, you’ll still need a phone for PSTN calls. You can use cellphones of course, but those offices with phones already (either PBX or VoIP) can’t power them with Teams.

This leaves users with a befuddling choice. One we’ll address later in this post. But first, let’s imagine a scenario…what if you combined the two?

Is Integration Possible? Yes…But the Form it Takes Determines Usability

Because Teams and Skype for Business overlap so much—on chat, PC calls, online meetings—the biggest difference between them is the few features the other DOESN’T have.

If you were to enhance one of them, including all of the other’s features? They would look like this.

Teams Enhanced: Calls can go anywhere (including the PSTN). Chats and Meetings with internal & external users, in the same number of steps. Presence status indicates when someone is active on their computer, not just in Teams (Displaying Status in Teams – MS Tech Community).

Skype for Business Enhanced: Persistent Chat acts more like Instant Messaging. Total control of chat within Skype for Business client. Closer/native switching between Persistent Chat & other services (e.g. conferencing).

Could the two integrate? Yes. Would that result in the ‘enhanced’ versions I mentioned? Possibly, depending on the avenue taken.

Right now, I can see two such avenues:

  1. Integrate Teams’ chat space into Skype for Business. Matt Landis has illustrated this wonderfully over at his blog: A Concept for Integrating the Skype for Business & Microsoft Teams User Experience
  2. Build the remaining Skype for Business tools into Teams. Many users are clamoring for this over in the Teams forums: How can we make Teams Better? – Complete Skype for Business Integration into Teams

Neither seems easier than the other, from a development perspective. But both are desired. Users see two types of communications platforms, each missing something the other has, and want those other features.

Teams Could Not Replace Skype for Business (but Skype for Business Could Improve by Integrating Teams)

In terms of integration/replacement between Teams & Skype for Business, I’m going to make another prediction. I predict that SOME form of integration will occur between them within 2 years. Could be as simple as linking Presence; could be as dramatic as merging the two services entirely.

I like Matt’s approach. It patches Teams into Skype4B, acting as a replacement Persistent Chat. As chat is one of my favorite features, this would give Skype for Business a big usability boost.

I looked at the Office 365 Roadmap for any indication of where Microsoft’s going with Teams. Unfortunately, I found nothing specific about Teams feature add-ins or integrations. If anyone from Microsoft wants to weigh in, I’d love to hear it!

So ends my thoughts on integration. But before I finish up, let me address the choice you’re waiting on. When you’re faced with Skype for Business vs. Teams, which is the better choice?

Which Should You Choose, Skype for Business or Teams? Here’s How to Decide

Your existing business communications will contain a number of factors. Weighing these factors will help you decide which platform to use.

These questions should identify those factors. They presume that you are not currently using either Skype for Business or Teams, but want to choose at least one.

Chat Apps

  1. Number of cellphones: What percentage of employees have cellphones now (for business use)?
  2. Are office (desk) phones already in use? Yes/No
  3. If Yes, do they use a PBX or Voice over IP?
  4. Does your business have more than one office, remote workers, or both?
  5. What is your staff’s preferred communications method (besides email)?
  6. Do you use Office 365? Yes/No/Planning To

Use Teams if you gave the following answers:

  1. Percentage is close to 100%
  2. No, or Yes if #3’s answer is Voice over IP
  3. If #2 is Yes, Voice over IP
  4. Remote workers, or both
  5. Instant Messaging, Skype (consumer), texting, or chat (and you don’t already use Slack or Workplace)
  6. Yes, or Planning To

If your answers are different, use Skype for Business. You have communications needs Teams cannot (at this time) fulfill.

Above all, Teams needs the ability to communicate with users outside your organization. Without this, it’s fundamentally hamstrung and unable to mature. It IS coming, but we’ll see how well it works when it arrives.

I hope this is helpful. But always factor in your current IT systems & network capacity when deciding!

What enhancement (if any) would you like to see in Microsoft Teams? Please comment or email your thoughts.

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Q&A on Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is here! It was released to General Availability (for Office 365 customers) on Tuesday. I’ve already seen several reviews of the chat platform. Links to some reviews are below.

Of course we have to weigh in; what kind of Skype for Business blog would I be if I didn’t? However, this is not just another review. I was able to trial Teams internally after the release, and thought I’d do something different.

By going through the information I’ve scoured from the Web, Twitter conversations, and my internal Teams trial, I have come up with several Teams-related questions. Questions which I shall answer!

Here are the questions. You can jump to any answer just by clicking the one you want. Let’s go!

Questions about the New Microsoft Teams

How is Teams organized?
Is there a mobile app?
What are the advantages (if any) over Slack?
Can we use Teams without an Office 365 account?
Will we get a free version of Teams? How about a consumer version?
What’s the cheapest option: Slack, HipChat, Workplace, or Teams?
How’s the bot?
What kind of integrations are available?
What’s the biggest drawback?

How is Teams organized?

Teams keeps it simple, in terms of organization. Each Team has Users invited to it. Teams may set up Channels to contain their conversations. You have the option of Public or Private Channels. Within the conversations, users can share files, video calls, a Wiki, etc.

Hierarchically, it’s like this: TEAMS > CHANNELS > USER CONVERSATIONS

There’s also an Activity Feed accessible from the left-column bar at all times. It shows your @mentions, replies, etc. Very much like Workplace’s News Feed.

Teams Activity Feed

Is there a mobile app?

Yes, but Microsoft did something a little funny with this one. The Teams app is the most advanced on Android—there you can make video and audio calls. iPhones and Windows Phones don’t have this yet. I’m sure it’s coming, but for now, Android users win out on Teams features.

What are the advantages (if any) over Slack?

I find two main differences, which you could call ‘advantages.’

One: Threaded conversations are native in Teams. (Slack did add this recently.) For those who are used to Slack’s message format, this might take a little adaptation time. But for those used to forums or sites like Reddit, threads are familiar territory.

Two: The Office 365 Integration. That eliminates extra cost, extra user accounts/licenses, and installation time. It’s one more tool in the toolbox.

Want a more direct comparison? TechWyse Blog did a great infographic comparing Teams and Slack:
Teams vs. Slack – TechWyse

Can we use Teams without an Office 365 account?

Nope. Not even to try out. I used a test user from a customer’s Office 365 account to try Teams.

This makes me sad, honestly. Teams is good enough to work as a standalone product. But I guess that’s not part of Microsoft’s strategy anymore (and we just have to live with it).

Will we get a free version of Teams? How about a consumer version?

No. No plans for this at all.

Microsoft: ‘We do not have any plans for a free or consumer offering of Teams’ – VentureBeat

That could change of course. I would like it if it changed. Slack made clever use of a free version to bring customers on, and Microsoft won’t even try a similar approach? It could even be an easy avenue into Office 365.

What’s the cheapest option: Slack, HipChat, Workplace, or Teams?

The numbers are very close here. Workplace is competing on price, but we’re talking a few dollars’ difference per user.

Here are some numbers from each service. I’m going to assume a standard account type, for 100 users.

  • Workplace: $3/month per user (for the first 1,000 users)
  • HipChat Plus: $2/month per user
  • Slack: $8/month per user
  • Microsoft Teams: Depends on Office 365 account level. Office 365 Business accounts range from $6-15/month per user. Office 365 Enterprise accounts range from $8-35/month per user.

As you can see, it’s really close. Teams could end up “costing” more than the others, but you’re also getting Office 365 bundled.

How’s the bot?

T-Bot is ready to help you on load. He’s (she’s? It’s?) really quick to respond too. I fired a few standard questions at T-Bot, and he gave exactly what I needed. Much like Slackbot, Slack’s own bot (who admittedly has a cuter avatar).

Unfortunately, T-Bot lacks a sense of humor. I tried some silly questions and a philosophy question. Poor T-Bot got confused and sent me to the FAQ.

What kind of integrations are available?

Plenty! Teams comes with 150 third-party integrations available at launch. More will come.

To integrate a service into a Channel, click the plus icon in a channel’s top nav. You’ll see a popup window with available integrations.

Integrations Available in MS Teams

I integrated Asana, our project management system. It took one login and about 20 seconds.

Integrating Asana into Teams

That’s one fewer tab I need to keep open right there.

What’s the biggest drawback?

This one deserves its own section. Because there is one big drawback to Teams…and no, it’s not the Office 365 bundling. It’s an operational flaw that many users have already come across. And it’s already hurting Teams adoption.

The Damaging Flaw: No External User Access

You cannot invite external contacts to use Teams.

Teams FAQ on Guests

I have a Skype for Business user account. But it’s Server-based, not O365-based. Thus my trial account couldn’t see it, and I could not send messages “out.”

This is the biggest issue I saw people having with Teams. It just befuddles me. Limited only to O365 users? No possibility of inviting someone into a chat, even temporarily? None.

Annoyed by this? You’re definitely not the only one:
How can we make Teams better? – External Access and Federation

Adding external users to teams – MS Tech Community

This WILL hurt Microsoft. As I said, some potential users are already swearing off Teams in favor of Slack, where they can chat with external users. Now, maybe losing market share will compel Microsoft to enable external users…but a lot of people aren’t holding their breath.

MORE TEAMS LINKS:
Teams is Microsoft’s Most Intriguing Productivity App Yet – Engadget
Microsoft Teams goes live with new email integration, enterprise bots – ZDNet
Teams, Microsoft’s Slack rival, opens to all Office 365 users – TechCrunch
Microsoft’s Teams is almost an excellent Slack-killer, and it’s now live for O365 – Ars Technica

Teams: Feels like an Evolved Skype for Business Persistent Chat

Teams isn’t just competing with Slack. It also competes with HipChat, Workplace, and to some degree, its own Skype for Business Server product!

Here’s why I think that. The Channels, available under Teams (which are either Public or Private, as set by administrators), are basically enhanced chat rooms. Skype4B’s Persistent Chat has a very similar structure. Private messages are essentially Instant Messages. You add voice to existing Conversations. They’re even called the same thing in both Skype for Business and Teams. “Conversations.”

The other Skype4B functions—voice, meetings, IM‐were covered in Office 365’s Skype for Business Online offering. Teams adds the Persistent Chat function.

Now, that’s not a bad thing in itself. As I’ve said many times, I love using chat. But I can’t help thinking Microsoft has miscalculated here. They’re trying to replace one product with another, but hobbled it by not allowing external user access. The MS Walled Garden rears its ugly head.

We’ll see how many people decide to climb over it or not.

Do you have a Teams question nobody’s answered yet? Send it in! Add a comment or email it over. I’ll happily update this post with it. Or create a new one, if the question merits.

And please share your Teams experiences too! I’m certain we’ll come back to Teams, soon enough.

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Skype for Business vs. Workplace by Facebook

Time to continue our “VS.” series! This time, let’s do a comparison of Workplace by Facebook to Skype for Business.

(Previous post: Skype for Business vs. Google Hangouts)

I was introduced to Workplace during research for The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business). Here’s an excerpt from that post, talking about Workplace:

The Workplace app does almost exactly the same things as Microsoft Teams and Slack: chat rooms, groups, external users, video, etc. It’s just made by the Facebook team. Pricing is cheaper than Slack, which makes sense if Workplace wants to grab users from other platforms.

Some good (and bad) points:

  • Workplace accounts are different from Facebook accounts. That’s good; separating work and play means better privacy overall.
  • Workplace has a Trust Center posted, like Office 365: Workplace Trust Principles. Good for you guys!
  • Workplace debuts with a handicap though—Facebook’s dubious privacy practices. It’s a separate system, but Workplace does run off Facebook’s servers. Some businesses will shy away on reputation alone (and I can’t honestly blame them).

I requested a trial. Curiously, I was prompted to select a time for a Live Demo, instead of a download link or registration page. Which gave me a nice overview of the platform before sending me a link to my new Workplace. After playing with it for a few days (and bugging my co-workers with random “Just testing!” calls), I think it’s time for my review.

So what kind of experience does Workplace give us? Is a “Facebook for Work” app what we need? What kind of pricing are we getting? Features? Let’s find out!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Skype for Business Workplace By FB
Instant Messaging Work Chat (Messenger on Steroids)
Voice Calls Voice Calls within Work Chat
Video Calls Video Calls within Work Chat
Conferences/Online Meetings Conferencing
Federation Multi-Company Groups
Presence Status  Presence Indicator
Response Groups Groups
Persistent Chat Work Chat
Runs On-Prem (Server)
or SaaS Option  (Office 365)
Runs as Cloud Service
with Mobile Apps

 

Workplace setup assistance

A Workplace post to help you with setup.

Before we get into the details on similarities & differences though, there’s an elephant in the (chat) room. Privacy.

The Privacy Question

Workplace does come from Facebook. And Facebook is famous for its, shall we say, cavalier attitude about user privacy.

You Should Go Check Facebook’s New Privacy Settings – WIRED (06-02-16)

The question is, does Workplace protect users’ privacy? As a business product, it does have a legal obligation. So far, I’ve seen no indication that it will gamble with user privacy. But given its creator, we must still wonder.

In the Workplace FAQs, we find several questions devoted to privacy and confidentiality. Like this one.

Who owns the information that employees create?
Like other cloud-based enterprise software, the employer does.

Pretty straightforward answer. Only time will tell what changes may appear in Workplace’s approach to privacy. As well as what the market believes about Workplace privacy.

The Similarities: Features, Familiar UI

In terms of features, both platforms are very similar. Workplace’s Work Chat mirrors Skype4B’s Instant Messaging. From there, you can add voice, video, or other people with a few clicks. Just like in Skype for Business.

I was able to test the calling function, but not video (think my cam’s broken). Calls in Workplace came through as clear as any Skype for Business call.

Familiarity is a big factor in both platforms. Workplace feels & acts almost identically to Facebook. Skype for Business feels & acts a lot like Skype (in some respects!). I must credit both Facebook and Microsoft on this. Familiarity is a big part of good user experience—it helps adoption, shortens the learning curve, and improves overall satisfaction.

Workplace by Facebook screen

Looks like Facebook. Is actually Workplace.

As you can see from the screenshot, Workplace’s interface is feed-based. Skype for Business’ interface is contact-based. So long as the user knows where to go for communications, the interface works. In this respect, Workplace has a leg up over other chat competitors, like Slack and HipChat.

The Differences: Pricing, On-Prem vs. Cloud, Apps

The biggest difference I see (at least right now) is that Workplace is cloud-only. No local deployment option exists. Not surprising, but for those who prefer deploying servers on-prem…Workplace is a no-go.

The pricing difference stems from this same disparity.

Workplace charges only by active users. Skype for Business Online does something similar through Office 365 user accounts. But Skype for Business Server does not. The server pricing is up-front, in the form of licenses and implementation costs.
Workplace just turns on and charges you for X users each month.

Their price point is lower than Microsoft’s Office 365. In fact, even considering Slack’s pricing, Workplace is the cheapest per month:

  • Office 365 Business plans run from $5/user/month to $12.50/user/month. The Enterprise plans run from $8/user/month to $35/user/month.
  • Slack charges $8/user/month for Standard, and $15/user/month for Plus.
  • Workplace starts at $3/user/month for the first 1,000 users ($2/user for the next 1,000, and $1/user after that).

Seems pretty obvious that Facebook wants to compete on price as well as features. Using such a low per-user pricing model is an attempt to leapfrog both Slack and Microsoft. Like its other platforms, the company may aim to grow Workplace at break-even (or even at a small loss) until it reaches juggernaut status. Then they can raise prices all they want.

It’s worked for them before; I must admit that. But only time will tell us if this pays off for Workplace’s adoption.

Finally, Workplace features third-party app integration. Facebook learned from its ecosystem of consumer apps & games, and built an API that will let developers build add-ons for Workplace too.

Apps & Permissions – Workplace Docs

You can do this with Skype for Business as well, to some degree. There are many third-party apps which extend the Skype for Business system. (We’ve reviewed a few here on the blog – search around!)

Microsoft even maintains a registry: Skype for Business Apps, though it is incomplete. In terms of third-party integration, Workplace has a bit of an edge here. Like Slack, it appears designed to work with other apps from the start.


Final Words: Workplace Has the Chops, But Will Businesses Bite?

Facebook is moving into an already-populated space, where competitors have had years to build up their audiences, and trying to take it over. Nothing inherently wrong with such a practice—disruption feeds innovation.

But I can’t help thinking Workplace will never get out from under Facebook’s privacy question. If there’s a data leak, or Workplace data “accidentally” shows up in Facebook ad deployments? Then Workplace is DOA…and thousands of businesses are in serious trouble.

A final note: Workplace is still the new kid on the block. I will revisit this topic again later, after the market’s had time to chew through Workplace more, and we see what kind of management path Facebook takes with it.

Which do you prefer using—Workplace by FB or Skype for Business? Are there situations where you prefer one over the other?  Please comment or email me what you think.

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