Slack’s new Canvas feature puts a document editor in your chat window


A Slack Canvas demo document on a light background.
A canvas is a document that lives inside – and works with – Slack. | Image: soft

Slack becomes a document editor. The Salesforce-owned company announced at its developer conference today that it is developing a new feature, called Canvas, that will allow users to create and edit entire documents from within the Slack interface. It’s one of Slack’s biggest announcements in a while and perhaps its biggest departure from its email-killing roots.

The idea behind bringing Documents to Slack seems to have been to match everything productive and useful on Slack, but to remove it from a quick chat window and into a more permanent and findable space. Canvas documents (which Slack calls canvases) can obviously contain text and images, but a big advantage they have is Slack’s ability to grab important content from any link pasted into the app. . Put a YouTube link, a tweet or now a document, and it will automatically embed the content. Thanks to Slack’s many integrations with other apps, you can also interact with third-party tools directly from a canvas. Each canvas is both a document and a low-code website, with all the functionality of Slack.

Multiple people typing in a Slack canvas.
Image: soft
Canvas documents are collaborative and all of their comments are just Slack threads.

The most immediate purpose the feature will serve is a big upgrade for Slack’s pins and bookmarks. Both were designed to make important posts and links easier to find, but all too easily turn into context-free places where you can’t find anything, and no one cares to look anyway. (just checked one) Edge Slack channel, and there are 51 pinned items. That doesn’t help anyone.) Instead of pinning a bunch of posts with helpful links for new hires, Slack imagines you could just create a canvas with all the forms they need, info they need to know, and feeds. of work to follow on the first day.

You can create unique documents through Canvas, but each channel will also automatically have its own associated page. Slack imagines you could use them as a hub for all the important details, links, and information users need for that channel. “It expands how people are already using Slack today,” says Nate Botwick, vice president of product at Slack. Botwick previously worked at Quip, which Salesforce acquired in 2016 and which powers much of the technology behind Canvas. “It takes their channels, which have already been built and aligns with their organizational priorities, and adds space to curate and organize information for that channel.”

At first, says Botwick, Slack Canvas is less of a competitor to Google Docs and Notion and more of a way to find your Google and Notion content more easily. In the long run, however, it looks like Slack is trying to compete with Google Docs and Notion. “You can, for example, work on a newsletter or an organizational announcement and send it to one or more channels,” he says. For now, Canvas only exists in the Slack ecosystem – there’s no public link to a Canvas document or a way to share it via email – but that’s likely to change over time.

A GIF showing a Slack canvas inside a channel.
Image: soft
Every Slack channel now gets a canvas, which is much more useful than a bunch of bookmarks and pins.

Canvas docs are also collaborative, so multiple people can work inside one at the same time, and all comments in a doc are treated as a separate Slack thread. “When there’s new activity, comments, or questions on a canvas,” says Botwick, “I think the likelihood of someone seeing it sooner and responding to it sooner is much higher because everything happens via Slack, and people spend so much time there.

Slack has spent the past few years trying to transition from an email app to a full-featured email-centric productivity tool. But message windows aren’t the right interface for everything, and neither is text chat. That’s why Slack has invested in Huddles and Clips to more easily integrate video and audio into the process, and why it’s turning to Canvas to do the same with documents. Slack competed with Microsoft Teams; it starts to compete with Office as a whole. It’s a difficult and expensive strategy, not to mention one that’s increasingly common as Zoom and others also try to steal market share from the productivity giants.

Canvas is currently in testing but won’t be available to most Slack users until next year. Botwick says there’s still a lot to finish and tweak before then. He thinks about how it all works on mobile, in particular – Canvas will be in Slack’s mobile apps at launch, but smaller screens require different interfaces, and Botwick says “it’s probably going to take us a little longer to make it really awesome on mobile”. .” When you sum it up, however, it says it’s just a document editor. In Slack. Right next to the thread it belongs to.

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