Slack’s Huddle Is Adding Video Capability

Slack users enthusiastically welcomed Huddles, adopting them more quickly than any new feature in the service’s history. And now, A.T. Slack’s Frontiers Conference, the company is announcing that Huddles is getting a major upgrade. Currently in testing and scheduled to reach general availability this fall, the new version will let users turn on their webcams and see each other during a huddle—an addition that felt inevitable from the start.

But don’t take this as a sign that Huddles is evolving into a face-to-face competition for Zoom or Google Meet. Slack’s chief product officer, Tamar Yehoshua, says that Huddles remain audio-first, with video as an optional extra. The company doesn’t want it to overwhelm the experience or make anyone feel self-conscious.

“When you’re in a video meeting, there’s a lot of social pressure to turn in your video,” she explains. “So we want to reduce it and be able to just make an audio call. If you need the video only then we turn on the video. And unless you enlarge it, it will be on the small screen. “

Two users can share their screen at the same time in Huddle. And the video windows remain small unless you choose to expand them. [Image: courtesy of Slack]

Rather than assume that video will be the new default for most people, Yehoshua believes that everyone will figure it out for themselves when camera-on collaboration feels right. “When we first launched Huddles, I moved all of my face-to-face to Huddles, because I’m on video all day,” she says. “I wanted a break. . . . and one of my direct reports said, ‘I miss seeing you.’ I think it’s a very personal thing.”

Slack Huddles Chat
The new Huddles introduces a conversation thread—shown here on the right—that sticks around even after Huddle ends. [Image: courtesy of Slack]

Along with adding videos, Huddles is expanding its screen-sharing option. Up to two people will be able to share their screen simultaneously in a Huddle: If theretwo designers working [a project], you can . , , See [the screens] Side by side and you can draw on them,” says Joshua. “There are emojis and reactions, because everything Slack does likes to be playful and fun.”

While it would be possible to have more stuff going on in a huddle, the fact that it’s happening inside Slack would still be the core of the concept. In fact, each Huddle will have its own dedicated Slack messaging thread on the right. While Huddle is in progress, you’ll be able to chat and share links and files. And everything in the channel or direct-messaging conversation will remain where Huddle originated, preserving it for future reference.

Slack Huddles Reactions
Huddle users can react to what they see with emoji, animated effects and stickers. [Image: courtesy of Slack]

Even though Yehoshua insists that Huddles isn’t trying to replicate Zoom, she quickly adds that Slack is a Zoom customer. (Come to think of it, Joshua and I were used to chatting.)

,Zoom is for scheduling meetings with a large group of people where you are presenting to them,” she says. Although she didn’t specifically point out to me, Zoom is decked out with features, such as waiting rooms for attendees, that add complexity and formality, even if you’re trying to strike up a quick conversation with a few colleagues.

Meanwhile, Huddles—which has a 50-person limit per session—is meant to reduce the barriers for smaller teams, who want to argue from typing in Slack to collaborating via audio, video, and/or screen sharing. Huh. According to Yehoshua, the average length of Huddles in their original audio form has been 10 minutes, suggesting that they may be a more efficient means of communication than formal video conferences blocked in half an hour or hours-long.

Not long ago, it became clear that Slack had made a strategic mistake by not including a full-blown Zoom-like capability. (In contrast, its archival, Microsoft Teams, chose to take Zoom directly and is doing so.) successfully And ambitiously.) Still, Huddles, even in their audio-only form, has been the best thing for Slack in years.

Yehoshua says that preserving the lightweight feel of Huddles even as more functionality is added is a priority. If the company pulls it off, Huddles could become an even more appealing respite from Zoom’s overload — and it’ll at least be an accomplishment worth turning to.

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