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Skype, HipChat or Slack? Our quest for a remote communication tool.

As we wrote some time ago, we were quite used to using Skype + TeamSpeak + BigBlueButton as our primary company communication tools. While TS and BBB proved to be reliable as AK47, Skype "could" be a bit better. Still, it was (and still is) an almost free tool, so it had its merit.

However, as we're a team of (mostly) engineers, our communication tool had to be perfect or get busted. Thus, the company-wide testing of new tools - HipChat and Slack ensued. We gave ourselves a week for each tool, after which time we would decide on what to do.

Here's a basic pros/cons comparison for each of the three tools. It's brutally honest and very relative - this worked/didn't work for us and us only, your team might find the tools completely different. This post has been crowdsourced by the SoftwareMill team.

Skype

Pros

To start, almost everyone has it. And that includes clients, with one of our biggest partners as well. Also, Skype has avatars (Mac version only) and combines text and video chat.

Cons

Firstly, messages get delivered only when at least two people in the conversation are online. You can't enter/leave chatrooms easily and pasted code/stacktrace doesn't look very well. There's no API available, you may be logged into one account at a time only and one of our clients doesn't use Skype.

Skype was our first tool, familiar and free. However, we needed something better. We moved to HipChat next.

HipChat

Pros

HC's got an app for almost every platform, pasted code looks nice (syntax colouring), the API's available, you can enter/leave chatrooms as you like and create private channels (e.g. if you want to buy sb a present). Finally, it has got a rich command system (e.g. part, away, all, here etc.) and lots of integrations (even more than Slack, it seems).

Cons

HC has no avatars, you can't set notifications for selected rooms only and you can't leave an offline message to be visible after you open HipChat.

You may be logged into one account at a time only (except the web app), at least on a Mac; plus, there's no native client for Snow Leopard. If you're absent for a while and want to check a popular channel, you've got to scroll all the way up just to find there's no full conversation log there and no link to the history. You've got to go to the web app and find the room's history.

Finally, HipChat isn't free - it costs $2/user/month. We've tested it for a week and moved on to the new, chic Slack. Straight from San Fran!

Slack

Pros

Slack has avatars, pasted code looks nice (syntax colouring) and its API is available. Slack's got a powerful search - you can scan messages, files, snippets - everything! It also shows others' time zone, which is crucial when working remotely.

Slack lets you star messages, create private channels easily, force everyone to be on the "general" (default) channel and it integrates with almost everything.

Cons

However! There's no desktop app for Linux/Windows and it's only for a team/company itself - if we wanted a client to use Slack, we'd have to create an e-mail in our domain for them. You can't add people to selected rooms, it's either full access or no access.

EDIT (11.08.2014): It seems that Slack's exclusivity is no longer valid - you can now add team members that see only a selected bit of your communication.

As for the bottom line, Slack's free version has a 10,000 message searchable archive, the paid version hasn't got this limit, but it's $8/user/month. For us it means around 10-day long archive. We're considering an upgrade, though - sometimes you just need to check a project's chat archive.

There can be only one

We've decided to go for Slack. And it was almost an unanimous decision, not so with HipChat or Skype. Some people around still think we should use IRC, but... well, no. We know there's Flowdock and a flock of other communication tools, but for now Slack completely rocks and it seems we'll stick to it.