The Importance of Message Threads in Team Messaging Apps
Instant messaging is a cure to the cluttered inbox. Message threads are a cure to the cluttered instant messaging landscape.
With tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, we can talk to anyone in real-time (or asynchronously). It’s much easier than tracking emails – at least in theory.
Everyone loves the agility of team messaging tools…until they lose their agility. This happens because we often revert back to our old email habits.
That’s why I invited Daniel Velton, Co-Founder of Leverice, onto Dispatch. Leverice is a new kind of team messaging and collaboration platform that takes threading to a unique and innovative level.
Drinking from a firehose gets old fast, but that’s what most teams with structureless team messaging find themselves doing.
You know the feeling.
If you and your team have channel flooding, you’ve got two choices:
- Drink from the firehose in an effort to keep up. Monitor that endless flow of conversation. Stay hypervigilant. React to every ding and notification. Because if you don’t, you know that critical message will get lost in the flood and scroll up into the abyss beyond your computer screen’s horizon.
- Take a break. Step away from your computer for a few hours. Go have a nice meal, enjoy the sunshine, spend time with a relative or friend. This approach is good for your mental health, but since your team messaging is a structureless firehose, prepare to come back to a cannon blast of jumbled unread messages to the face.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s a third way, and it’s better.
What are message threads?
Message threads are a part of the new real-time conversational experience. A thread is a running commentary of all the messages sent in your chat app. They appear within a group, private message, or channel.
The thread isn’t a new concept. Threads appear in chat rooms, emails, and even the comment section of blogs.
These content streams have been around since the first web forum. But, learning how to master the art of threaded conversations will improve your teamwork to the nth degree.
Message threads in your chat apps keep discussions organized. From a message on Slack or Microsoft Teams or Leverice, you can start a thread.
When you begin a thread, you can ask a question, respond to a query, or give feedback. Plus, you don’t disrupt the flow of the discussion.
Benefits of message threads
Threads give your message context, showing who you’re talking to.
High-level benefits include:
- Threads preserve meaningful context and organize conversations.
- A thread encourages open discussion about topics without distracting others.
- Threads give you a way to get more clarity, without starting a new DM.
- Your threads make it easier to track information by looking at specific conversations.
- Threads keep announcement channels clear of extra clutter.
- Only those actively participating in a thread get notified; reducing notification overload.
- Threads are sticky. When you share a message, threaded replies share too.
Threads add topical integrity to team messaging
When building Leverice, threads were the most important element. We wanted to ensure the channel firehose effect is easy to stop.
It starts by adding a layer of logic and structure to your team messaging. Instead of discussing fish, birds and bears in a big bucket of a channel called “Animals” — break it out.
Let’s start by creating a subchannel called “Mammals”.
Then break your topics down even further, and magic starts to happen for both writers and recipients of your team messages.
If I need to post a message about grizzly bears, I’ll put it onto the shelf dedicated to that microtopic: /Animals/Mammals/Bears/Grizzlies.
The result? It doesn’t get lost in a flood of messages in a catchall channel called Animals. Everyone who needs to pay attention to the grizzly bears topic will see it, whether they’re online now or coming back to their computer in a few hours.
I, the writer, don’t need to double up and also send this important message via email, since I know it won’t get washed away in a channel flood.
On the other side, my teammates know they won’t miss out.
A colleague who works on the Grizzly Bears topic can step away, focus on his work, do anything else for hours (or even longer) and know that he won’t miss an important message about grizzlies by not being hypervigilant to every ding and notification from his team messaging platform.
If on the other hand I’m only concerned about fish and don’t work with pandas, black bears, or grizzlies, I can unsubscribe from the /Animals/Mammals branch without leaving the Animals subject altogether.
When your team messaging stops acting like confetti, your workday stops feeling like confetti too.
Add asynchronicity to team messaging
Threading, and especially deep threading of the sort we developed at Leverice, works wonders for distributed teams. It adds an element of asynchronicity to team messaging that reduces the strain of always-on hypervigilance.
What does that mean?
Almost all team messaging platforms (and the way most people traditionally think about team messaging) are synchronous and person-centric.
Most start their messages by thinking “Who should I ping?”
You send a message, and the other person must process the info and respond immediately, or almost immediately.
You snooze, you lose. Result: FOMO, stress and distraction on all sides.
Synchronous communications are important for fire alarms, but not everything is a fire alarm.
Realtime rapidfire communications can hurt team productivity more than they help.
Every interruption has an opportunity cost, because while your attention may drift to that notification ding for only a second, it can take minutes to refocus on your task at hand.
In synchronous messaging, a premium is placed on connectedness (instant availability) as opposed to productivity and results.
Asynchronous messaging is when you send a message without expecting an immediate response. Teammates respond at their own pace, and so do you. The messaging shifts to a topic-centric focus: “What am I talking about?” rather than “Who do I want to ping?”
Making a shift to topic-centric asynchronous messaging can require a transition in habits, processes, and digital tools to move to a more appropriate platform, but it pays off big time. This is how Leverice takes aim at information overload.
If urgent matters require an immediate response, consider using other channels of communication, but be selective about what messages you route that way.
If everything’s treated like a fire alarm, people will stop hearing the alarm.
How do Slack threads work?
Slack introduced threads on the 18th of January 2017. They work in all workspaces and channels – even in shared channels and Slack Connect.
Slack threads allow users to create organized conversations around specific messages. If you want to give feedback on a file or respond to a question, you can. Hover over the message until the menu appears. Then click on the message icon to make a thread.
Threads on Slack appear in a “flex pane” next to the main chat. If you need to focus on a specific conversation, click on the Threads tab. Hover over the thread you want to appear on the right side of the Slack app. Click view thread in sidebar.
Each message will only support one thread. Slack adds the person you’re responding to into the thread. You can add other people by @mentioning their username.
Follow a thread you’re interested in by clicking on the thread (…) menu.
One smart feature of Slack threads is they can move back into a public channel at any point. Hover over the message in your thread and click the hashtag to send it back to the channel.
But, only do this if 100% necessary. Otherwise you’ve just interrupted the channel for no reason.
Slack also has an “All Threads” tab on the left-hand window. You can click on this tab to see all the threads you’re currently involved in.
To remove a thread from the Thread tabs, click the icon with 3 vertical dots. Click on Unfollow thread. You won’t get any notifications from this thread in the future.
You may also like: Slack Etiquette Guide: 10 Do’s and Don’ts
While the first sign of a thread in team messaging apps was in Slack, Microsoft Teams and Webex have followed suit.
Microsoft Teams message threads
Microsoft Teams doesn’t offer message threads the same way as Slack.
The Conversations tab is where you can view everyone and respond to messages.
Clicking on the ellipses menu next to a message will give you an option to DM them. You can also respond to someone else’s message with the reply option.
While you can track your conversations, you can’t open a separate message thread or tab with Teams. All conversations not in Private Chat appear in the Teams tab. You can see your threaded conversations by scrolling through the Teams tab.
You can also track your messages in the Activity tab. Here, you can see if someone has responded to your previous comments.
Every time you respond to a message in a Microsoft Teams channel, you’re contributing to a thread. Starting a new conversation begins a new thread.
You may also like: Tom Arbuthnot’s Guide To Microsoft Teams Threads
Webex message threads
While Webex productivity tools are front and center of their offering, Webex has its own version of threads too. To start or respond to a thread, find the conversation you want to respond to.
Hover over the message or file and click on the button to start a thread.
If you want to respond to an existing thread, you click the same icon. When you hover over the icon now, it will say reply to thread.
After someone creates a thread on Webex, anyone in the space can add a response. When someone replies to a thread you belong to, you’ll see a notification. Webex highlights the new replies to help you keep track.
Threads on Webex also work with the web browser app and mobile app.
If you want to see all threads, go to Spaces, and choose a space. Click on the My threads option in the menu. All the threads you start or reply to will appear here. The list only includes threads from the last 28 days.
Using the Slack API for cross-platform message threads
The Slack API means you can create apps to support cross-platform threads. For example, Slack to Microsoft Teams.
Developers can design Slack apps to perform a range of tasks. With the right language and coding, teams can create cross-platform threaded messages.
“Threaded messages” refers to each of the messages within a thread. “Unthreaded messages” are the messages before any replies. A “parent” message is the message prompting replies. Threaded replies are the child messages in the conversation.
Working with the Slack API is a good way to expand your messaging app. But it’s difficult to build the perfect solution from scratch. And when you need to collaborate cross-platform, you have other providers’ APIs to deal with too.
An easier option is to use a tool which does the syncing for you.
Mio syncs threaded messages between Slack and other apps. Your team members can connect with clients and contractors within Slack threads. They can even communicate when other people use Microsoft Teams and Webex productivity tools.
Mio simplifies intercompany collaboration and the act of connecting message threads between apps.