Slack launches Canvas, a document app that lives inside your chat app

Slack launches Canvas, a document app that lives inside your chat app

The best thing about Slack’s new Canvas feature is that I hardly need to explain it to you. It’s like Google Docs but inside Slack. Create a canvas, add some content and share it with whoever you want. Every channel in your Slack now has a canvas associated with it, and you can create and share as many as you like. That’s it!

Slack first announced Canvas last year, and it’s starting to roll out to all Slack users today. I’ve been testing the initial version for the past few days, and it will definitely be one of my more used Slack features going forward. They are probably the most useful organizational tool created by Slack.

See, the problem with Slack is that it’s chaos. Since it’s primarily a messaging app, everything that happens in Slack happens in chat. Chats move quickly, and they resist organization; Even if you’re ruthless enough to force people to draw everything, you’re going to end up with a million threads that say “question, draw details” and “ok, so I was thinking.” Slack aims to be a repository for all of your company’s information, documents, data, and workflows — and it’s really useful for a lot of things! — but it takes a lot of scrolling and searching to find the things you’re looking for.

Canvases are basically just documents filled with Slack content.
Image: Slack

One way to think of a canvas is like a collection of Slack objects. You can type text into it, but you can also upload photos and videos, embed Slack apps, add links, run polls, and do all the other things you’d do in a message. Links can appear as cool cards, YouTube videos will play inline, and all of Slack’s rich links and media also appear in the canvas. Really, anything you can do in Slack, you can do in Canvas, but now those things are stored in a document that you can find and organize more easily. (Yes, you can embed a canvas inside a canvas. Canvas-ception.) And if your company is deep enough in Slack that you have buttons for filing bug reports and multi-step workflows, you can invoke with a slash command , they all work. Even within the canvas.

One way to think of a canvas is like a collection of Slack objects

But even though it’s technically a collaborative tool for document creation, Canvas isn’t really a competitor to Google Docs. It’s also not a particularly sophisticated editing tool, for one: you can create lists and headings, but otherwise you don’t have much control over how the text looks. Multiple people can work on the canvas simultaneously, but Google Docs handles multiple cursors and overlapping edits better.

“Google Docs 100 percent still has a place in our universe,” says Ali Rail, SVP of Product at Slack. In initial testing, she found that the canvas occupied a different space. “The first thing we’re seeing is that it’s in Slack, and there’s something about having that kind of flexible space already in production.” It may not be the most powerful text editor on the planet, but there’s probably no faster way to send an onboarding document or style guide to a bunch of your colleagues.

Canvas will be especially useful for changing bookmarks and pins in Slack.
Image: Slack

There’s something to that logic: I’ve found myself using Huddles, Slack’s in-app voice and video chat, more often than I thought possible. Next there. Starting a huddle feels like a quick call rather than dramatically dropping a Zoom link into a conversation. And if I’m pulling together a mood board of links and images to share with the team, Canvas is probably the least complicated way to do so.

Because it’s Slack, Canvas handles sharing and permissions really well — much better than Google Docs. When you create a new canvas, you can share it with anyone in your organization or share it with a channel and everyone in the channel will have access. However, there’s no public sharing, so you’re limited to people who also have access to your Slack. (For most documents, this is probably a good thing.) All comments on Canvas reside in dedicated Slack threads, which can be searched just like anything else in Slack. If you mention someone in the canvas but they haven’t shared yet, their name appears with a gray background; Share it with them and they will turn blue.

Over time, Slack looks like Canvas is turning into a freeform collaborative workspace, similar to both Google Docs and whiteboard apps like Miro. More immediately, though, it’s a huge upgrade over the Pins and Bookmarks that Slack has relied on for so long. For that purpose alone a per-channel canvas has the potential to have a huge impact. “We wanted this surface in our products from day one,” says Rail. “Pins and bookmarks were like, ‘We’re going to do this until we make that surface.

Slack looks like a messaging app and works like a messaging app, but it’s not really just a messaging app. Seeing too much has made it difficult to use Slack as a consistent place to store information. Canvas won’t take over your document workflow anytime soon, but it seems like a great place to put stuff that you’ll find again. It makes Slack more meaningful. Already unpinning everything I can find.

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