Slack Is the Modern Knowledge Base

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Javascript is the most popular programming language in 2022. Markdown is the most widely used markup. The browser has become the universal virtual machine.

Slack is the modern knowledge base

As the founder of a developer focused knowledge management tool, I've interviewed hundreds of users, from startups to fortune 50, about how they manage knowledge at work. From these interviews, I've come to the aforementioned conclusion. I'm using slack because its the most well known but you can just as easily substitute slack for teams/discord/some-other-messaging-platform.

Universally, all comapnies have some sort of knowledge base - usually in the form of confluence/sharepoint/notion. But when individuals within the company need information, they almost always turn to slack. They will either ping some individual or a specific channel to get the information they need.

Why might this be bad?

A knowledge base should be a well structured store of durable information that can be read, contributed to, and referenced over time. A communications tool should be a stream of messages that can be quickly consumed, replied to, and acted upon.

The design goals for these two applications run counter to each other:

  1. A knowledge base should be well structured. It should be easy to explore and find relevant information. A communication tool does not have any of these properties. It is a linear feed of messages.
  2. A knowledge base is used for gathering context about work that needs to be done. It requires uninterrupted time and deep focus. A communication tool promotes an interrupt driven workflow where individuals are waiting or requesting of others, information.
  3. A knowledge base is focused on making knowledge accessible and durable. A communication tool sends messages in specific channels that are easily missed and also become buried over time

Imagine an alternate universe where version control for code had an artificail limit where you only get access to your last 10k commits 90 days of commits. This would be absurd for version control and it is equally absurd for knowledge management.

So why do we do this?

Like water, we seek the path of least resistance. Using slack is the easiest and most effective way for an individual to find the information they need.

For the individual asking the quesiton, the alternative is spending an hour on confluence trying to find a doc that turns out to be outdated.

For the individual responding to the question, the alternative is to open confluence, figure out where to put the answer, and then link to the document (that might never be referred to again). Compare this to simply answering in slack vs both the mental and physical overhead of trying to document knowledge.

Answering questions on slack solves immediate problems for both parties. The long term consequence is that explicit institutional knowledge is never build. The information that is inside confluence remains unreliable and out of date. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of indiviudals querying and answering in slack vs the proper tool for the job.

So what do we do about this? More thoughts on this next week.

Javascript is the most popular programming language in 2022. Markdown is the most widely used markup. The browser has become the universal virtual machine.

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