How to use threads on slack to group conversations

Joel Cornell has spent twelve years writing professionally, working on everything from technical documentation at PBS to video game content for GameSkinny. Joel covers a bit of everything technology-related, including gaming and esports. He’s honed his skills by writing for other industries, including in architecture, green energy, and education. Read more.

Slack is a great tool for communicating and collaborating in digital workspaces. When it gets busy, it’s difficult to sort through all the information; what’s relevant, and what’s chatter. Start grouping your conversations into threads, and watch the clutter disappear.

All conversations that you’ll have with your colleagues in Slack are sorted into channels. These channels can be based on the team, the project, the subject, or any topic that needs its own dedicated space. Click on any of the channels of the direct messages on the left side of Slack to open that conversation space in your main window.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

In any channel or message, you can type messages as the conversation progresses. Unfortunately, you’ll quickly find that topics and new messages can get lost as time goes on. To consolidate your conversations under each topic, you’ll want to use threads. You can start a thread by hovering your mouse cursor over any message and selecting the “Reply to Thread” button.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

This will open a new pane on the right side of Slack where you can type out messages and upload files as you would in a channel. Instead, everything is neatly organized in a thread under that message, rather than in the channel where it can interrupt or delay unrelated conversations. Once a thread is created, you can always return to it by clicking the link beneath a threaded conversation that displays how many replies exist, when the last one was made, and who responded.

If you want to view your threads in order of the most recent responses, click the “Threads” button in the top left.

With threads in Slack, it’s easy to stay productive while keeping digital spaces tidy and organized. Just remember that these are only useful if you and your team are actually using them!

I’m a Slack junkie, so I was excited when they recently announced they’d finally be rolling out a Threads feature. I was particularly keen to try it out since I recently launched a Slack community for the /Filmcast podcast. Would threads make it easier or more confusing to organize conversation in a freewheeling channel with hundreds of users?

Slack threads allow users to essentially convert any message into a thread, and then add replies to that thread. Replies are only one message deep (they cannot go further), and show up on the right-hand pane, which is otherwise used for giving info on the thread as a whole.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

Slack also compiles all threads into a handy “All Threads” view that lights up whenever someone responds to any of your threads.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

This feature is particularly beneficial for replying to earlier messages in channels. If a message appeared hours ago and the entire channel has moved onto a different topic of conversation, it’s a lot easier to make a thread and reply — the original user gets a notification, and the conversation can continue on that topic while the channel is blissfully unaware.

Overall, I think the threads work really well and help to declutter conversations when they are used correctly. However, there are a few issues with threads right now as they are currently implemented:

Converting messages to threads – The ability to convert any message into a thread doesn’t work too well with how people typically use Slack. In many of my Slack Teams, thoughts come out in a series of incomplete messages, often with crosstalk. A single one of these messages would be inappropriate to start a thread with. Thus, being able to group multiple messages into the start of the thread would be helpful.

Moreover, it would be really useful if the user could give some kind of cue (via the UI or otherwise) when they want to start a thread. In our Slack, we’ve taken to putting “Thread: [Topic here]” or something similar. But it’s not always clear what’s better as a thread, or what’s better as further conversation in the channel. Sometimes people use both to respond, creating confusion.

Ways to resolve
– Develop some kind of usage convention, or educate users on proper etiquette when it comes to creating threads
– If possible, allow users to group multiple consecutive messages into a thread

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

The “Also send to #channel” button – Slack offers you the ability to send any message in a thread back to the general channel. Let me be clear: This button is an abomination and must be changed or destroyed. It’s not that the concept of sending a thread message back to the channel is a bad one; it’s more that the messaging around it is very confusing.

Most people, when they see that checkbox, are going to want to send the message back to the #channel. Why wouldn’t you? Your message is important and the channel should read it, right? We have a lot of first-time users in our Slack and initially, every single one of them clicked on this checkbox. This resulted in exchanges like the one below in the channel itself:

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

The threads were making the actual channel much more difficult to read. Thus, we had to lay down a ground rule about not checking that checkbox. The results have been much better since.

In short, “Also send to #channel” is terrible messaging. It should say something like, “Do you think this message is important enough that you want to barge into the main conversation with it, interrupting everything else going on over there? Then check this box.” But I understand why they didn’t put that there. Maybe a happy medium would be appropriate?

Ways to resolve
– Do more to explain the dire consequences of sending a thread reply back to the channel
– Remove the button completely

Other thoughts: In addition to blanket “no sending threads back to channel” rule, our Slack has also developed some channels that are “thread only.” This means every single message must be a thread-starting message. This has led to much more organization and readability in channels like #oldermovies, where you can just scroll up and see a bunch of movie-specific discussions to dive into. It would be ideal if there was some way to “force” people into threads for certain channels, or get them to understand that by posting a message, they are actually starting a thread.

Overall: I really like the Threads and I hope Slack continues to take steps to improve their usability. But I think that a lot more education could have gone into the roll-out, which would’ve saved a lot of confusion and headaches.

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How to Start a Threaded Conversation in Slack

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

In this Ask the Admin, I’ll show you how to work with threaded conversations in Slack.

Slack has proved to be popular in the small business collaboration space, first with developers adopting the tool as a replacement for email, and then as it gradually filtered out to other teams who saw the benefits Slack provided over email as a collaboration tool. The ability to make calls and share documents was also added, posing a threat to document management and collaboration solutions from Microsoft, which responded late 2016 with Microsoft Teams, its Slack challenger that should reach general availability sometime in Q2 2017.

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For more information about Slack, see What is Slack and Is It Better Than Email? on the Petri IT Knowledgebase.

But the problem I’ve always had with Slack channels is that they get cluttered over time, meaning that while a channel is initially created to discuss a particular topic, at some point, the conversation goes off on various tangents, making the thread hard to follow. That is until a recent update to Slack that provides for threaded conversations, making it easier to keep channels in order. It’s worth noting that the addition of threads is no doubt a response to Microsoft Teams, which supports threaded conversations, even though it’s still in preview.

Start a New Thread

To complete the instructions below, you’ll need to log into a Slack team using the desktop app, version 2.4.1 or later, or open Slack in a browser window.

  • Open the Slack desktop app.
  • Select a channel in the list of available channels on the left.
  • If no conversation has been started in the channel, you’ll need to add at least one message.
  • Hover the mouse pointer over a message in the channel window, and click the speech bubble icon in the context menu that appears to the right.

Slack now supports threaded conversations (Image Credit: Slack)

  • A new Thread panel will open to the right of the channel pane.
  • Type one or more messages in the Thread panel.

Before committing a message to the thread, which you do by pressing ENTER, you can optionally check Also send to #channel to write the message to the parent channel as well as the thread. This is useful for copying important decisions that get made in threads into the main channel as well.

A threaded conversation in the main channel window (Image Credit: Russell Smith)

Unlike Microsoft Teams, threads are summarized in the channel window rather than expanded in full, so if you want to see the complete thread text, you’ll need to click View thread, which appears to the bottom right when you hover the mouse pointer over the number of replies count. Additionally, all your active threads can be viewed by clicking All Threads at the top of the team pane.

In this article, I showed you how to work with threaded conversations in Slack.

Evolving beyond chat

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How to use threads on slack to group conversations

Slack today is rolling out message threads inside its familiar chat window, allowing teams to have more focused conversations inside a new “flex pane” that appears next to the main chat. The feature, which has been a top request of Slack users, reflects the company’s evolution from a simple communication tool to a place where an increasing amount of work gets done.

Threads are rolling out today across Slack’s web, desktop, and mobile apps. The idea of message threading is not an original one — it is used by some of Slack’s rivals, such as Convo, and is a foundational principle of email, which Slack has noisily promised to kill. But Slack’s implementation of threads is novel, and arguably more useful, than most of its peers — even if it comes at the cost of having to pay more attention to Slack than before.

Every thread must be attached to a Slack message, and each message only supports one thread. To start one, hover over a Slack message until the context menu appears. (It’s the same menu that you use to add reaction emoji or share a message.) Tap the new chat bubble and a thread will appear in a new pane to the right of the main chat.

By default, the person you’re responding to is added to the thread. You can add others by mentioning their usernames, and follow threads you’re interested in manually in the thread’s ellipses menu (. ). The thread resembles a public version of group direct messages — but unlike direct messages, threads can be searched.

Slack says threads help make public channels more readable by moving discussions about discrete topics into their own workspace. “It’s just really hard to read a channel where four conversations are happening at once,” says Paul Rosania, the product lead for threads.

Perhaps the cleverest thing about Slack’s version of threads is the way they can move back into public view. Any message inside a thread can be “sent back” to the public channel at the press of a button. A thread where employees were making a decision about where to have lunch, for example, might culminate with someone sending the group’s pick back to the main channel so everyone else can see.

How much you use threads will depend on your company and your job. But employees at Slack, who have been testing threads for months, say they are meant to complement public channels — not replace them. Joshua Goldenberg, the company’s head of design, told me that only 7 or 8 percent of his time in Slack has moved to threads.

Still, like many changes to Slack, threads will likely mean you spend more time using Slack. Threads come with their own unified inbox, located underneath “all unreads” on the left-hand pane, and notifications when you are added to a thread or there is activity in one that you follow. There is also the risk that threads will become very popular at your company, and you will be asked to weigh in on many things, instead of simply letting most discussions roll off your back the way you did in the channel-only days.

All of this is by design. Slack might have begun life as a glorified IRC channel, but it aspires to be the place where you do much of your work. For some people, says April Underwood, the company’s head of product, “they’re getting all their work done in Slack. They’re talking to each other, they’re taking advantage of notifications from dozens of applications that they rely on to get their work done, [and] they’re taking action on those notifications with message buttons. Slack is not a chat tool . it’s a place where people are producing work product, they’re collaborating around it, [and] they’re creating an archive that serves as a kind of brain for a company.”

Here at The Verge, Slack mostly is a chat tool, and for me that’s part of its charm. The nice thing about chat is that it usually only matters in the moment. One reason Slack could credibly claim to reduce email inside companies is that it encouraged people to drop their more ephemeral messages into chat, rather than email the entire staff. “I’m working from home” and “we’re gathering in the break room for birthday cake” migrated into dedicated office ephemera channels, where they could be ignored, and the load on our inboxes lightened measurably.

Threads are for work that can’t be ignored, and they are likely to demand your attention. The more they do, the less it will matter whether Slack killed email or not, because any time you saved in your inbox will now be spent doing work in Slack. From Slack’s perspective, this is great news — when you’re the place where all work gets done, customers will have a lot harder time canceling their subscriptions. And perhaps the chat-and-threads model will be faster and more efficient than your old system. But anytime I see a new inbox created in my life, I worry.

It’s hard to imagine a more elegant implementation of threads than the one Slack designed. There’s an undeniable need for a place within the app to have more focused discussions, particularly in the larger (and therefore noisier) companies that Slack is now courting. And Slack has been clear about its intentions to build an all-encompassing command console for the workplace from the start. I only wonder if one day we’ll miss the days when Slack was something you could sometimes ignore.

The foundation of every relationship is built on trust and communication. Communicating well builds trust. Trust opens the doors of communication.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

But how can you emphasize trust and communication in your organization? What tools support a culture of transparency and results?

A New Definition for Team Communication

If you’re wondering what Slack is, the company website says it best:

Slack is a platform for team communication: everything in one place, instantly searchable, available wherever you go.

Put another way: Slack is the best of every communication medium combined in a beautiful design and intuitive interface that works across every major platform.

Because of the familiar features (hashtags, @mentions, emojis, links, favorites, etc) new users instantly feel at home and ramp up quickly.

Slack combines the core benefits of email, the reactive speed of text messaging, the accessibility of social networks, and the responsiveness of mobile to deliver a solution that looks simple on the surface while packing a powerful punch under the hood.

You get to make your individual Slack setup as complicated or clean as you want.

Essential Fundamentals

Communication within Slack is organized into 3 main categories:

  • Channels
  • Direct messages
  • Private Groups

Channels are the primary streams of communication.

Think of them as topics or projects. Channels are open to anyone within the Slack group to join or review. This provides open dialogue, enables cross functional communication, and helps a team identify where multiple bodies of work may intersect.

For teams of any size it’s important to manage the volume and scope of the channels.

A channel can get too crowded with overlapping dialogue. On the flip side, if a new channel is created for everything, it’s difficult to keep track of the right conversation. Not to mention your notifications will go haywire.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

In addition to a channel for each major project (topic, department, etc), here are a few standard channels every team should use:

  1. Resources. This serves as a repository for links, documents, photos, books, tools or whatever content can serve as a resource for helping your team get the work done well.

These six channels create a solid foundation to start using Slack like a pro right out of the gate.

The remaining communication options are pretty self-explanatory.

Direct messages. Communication between two team members that only they can see. Kind of like an email or instant message with no cc or bcc option.

Private group. Think of this is an exclusive channel. It functions the same, but the content is only visible to those included by the admin. Warning: use this sparingly. The goal is open, effective communication.

Building Your Toolbox

Slack has a ton of features to facilitate communication, information sharing, and project management.

  • #hashtag. Just like Twitter, use hashtags within comments to tag a channel or specific topic. This helps organize search results and allows users to find relevant details easily. This comes in handy if a particular item has implications for multiple channels. Instead of posting the same content in 4 different places, just add the desired hashtag.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations


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Create a Group Chat in Slack

Log in to your Slack account and you’ll see a list of groups and people you can send messages to in the left sidebar. Once you’re logged in, click on the small “+” right next to direct messages, and it will pop up a new dialog box.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

In the dialog box, you’ll see a group of people from your organization who are using Slack. Just select the people you want to create a group chat with, either by choosing from the list or typing them manually and click “Go”.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

You can now talk to the people in the new Group Chat. You can also add more people to the group chat if you want to. Click on the “Channel Details” icon on the top of the group chat as shown below.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

Now, a sidebar will pop up on the right side, click on the “Members” drop-down menu and select “Add someone”. From there, just choose the person you want to add to the conversation.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

This feature is quite useful when working with specific individuals on projects or for having an online meeting.

Today team collaboration vendor Slack announced the addition of threaded conversations to their group messaging application. Slack customers will be very happy to see this addition, as this has been one of the most requested features since the product’s original launch. What is a threaded conversation? It’s when a message has replies directly linked to it, rather than each reply just being posted on it’s own in a “flat” chronological order. Think of it this way, instead of having a dozen people in a room all talking over each other at the same time making conversations nearly impossible to follow, people tend to discuss one topic, then move on the next, etc. If you want to go back to an older topic, people say “Remember when we were talking about so and so?” Structure is important in conversations, as it helps reduce the clutter and the chaos that can occur in a channel when there is no organization.

You start a thread by hovering over a message, and clicking the new “Start a thread” icon. Given Slack’s focus on user design, friendliness and fun, I’m a bit I’m surprised by the choice of the rather technical term “thread” versus something more natural like conversation, reply or comment, but naming aside, threads are a very welcome addition.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

This opens the message on the right hand side of the screen, which Slack calls the Flexpane. There you can read the entire conversation and add new replies.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

After you send the reply, the original message is updated indicating the number of replies.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

Better Late Than Never

You may wonder why it’s taken Slack a while to add threaded conversations. Slack spent almost 2 years working on several designs, testing both internally and with a few customers to make sure they released a design that is both simple and effective. There were many design elements to consider, including:

  • How many levels of nested replies should they allow? Meaning should there just be replies to the initial message, or should you be able to reply to a reply?
  • How should threads be displayed in the main stream? Should they be expanded or collapsed by default?
  • Should posts with new responses be bubbled up to the top of the stream, or just kept in line with when they were originally created?
  • When and how should people be notified about replies?

It’s interesting to note, there is very little consistency in the answers to these questions across the various enterprise software vendors. Threaded conversations are handled differently in Facebook, IBM Connections, Salesforce Chatter, Microsoft Teams, etc. So far there does not appear to be a specific “right answer”. For Slack’s part, rather than cluttering up the main stream with replies, they allow people to open the conversations they want on the right. This is similar to scanning through a long list of email subject lines, then opening the email you want to read in a preview pane on the right. Slack’s approach here is similar to IBM Connections, which also shows conversations on the right instead of inline in the stream like Facebook and many others. Time will tell how Slack’s customers react to this.

One of the things I like the most about Slack’s threaded conversations is the addition of the “All Threads” view. This view allows you to easily see all the conversations (sorry, threads) that you started, replied to, or you’ve been mentioned in – across all your channels in one place. You can also manually choose to follow threads that don’t automatically meet one of those 3 criteria. The All Threads view enables you to easily keep up with the threads you’re engaged in, without having to jump between several screens of information.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

A Crowded Space

The group messaging market is very competitive, with offerings coming from several directions including:

  • standalone vendors like Glip, HiBox and HipChat (see the Constellation ShortList™ Enterprise Group Messaging: Standalone)
  • traditional UCC/PBX vendors like Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit (see the Constellation ShortList™ Enterprise Group Messaging: Unified Communication)
  • enterprise collaboration/social networking vendors like Microsoft (Yammer and their new Teams product), Salesforce Chatter, IBM (the upcoming Watson Workspace) as well as Workplace by Facebook

Slack’s addition of thread conversations eliminates one of the talking points these competitors have been using when selling against Slack.

It’s clear Slack put a great deal of thought and testing into this feature, and Constellation Research looks forward to speaking with customers about how they are using it.

How to use threads on slack to group conversations

There are often tonnes of communications happening in each company everyday. Channels are one of Slack’s most powerful features to help you bring order to your team communication. By creating channels for different functions, projects, topics or more, you can organize team conversations in ways that work best for your team.

As channels are such a core part of Slack, how you organize your Slack channels plays a key role in helping your teammates access important information that they need more easily and in turn, be more productive and less distracted.

In this article, we are going to share some best practices on organizing Slack channels to keep your Slack team tidy and easily scannable, even as your team size grows.

What Slack channels should I create?

When your team first launches Slack, there are two default channels: #general and #random. #general is a good place for company-wide information that are business related while the #random channel can be used for non-work related chit-chats.

1. Organize Slack channels by teams, projects and functions

A good way to start creating new channels on top of the two default channels would be creating channels based on teams, projects and functions. For examples:

  • A channel that involves a whole functional team for more high level discussion and updates (#team-marketing, #team-sales, #team-cs)
  • A channel for discussion on more specific functions in the team (#cs-tickets, #cs-implementation, #cs-churns)
  • A channel to group projects that involves a cross-team squad(#proj-blog-redesign, #proj-referral-program)

2. Create Slack channels for good-reads / knowledge sharing

Other than channels for really focused work-related discussion, it’s also a good idea to create some good-reads or knowledge sharing channels to encourage teammates to share industry best-practices or if they read across something inspiring. For examples:

  • Divide the channels by topics so people can subscribe to channels they are interested in learning more (#learn-sales, #learn-marketing)
  • At Kipwise, we also have a company wide channel #company-competitors to share market intelligence when we spot any interesting move from our competitors В

3. Create Slack channels for social or fun purposes

Other than simply created work-related channels, it’s also a good idea to create some informal or social channels to help your teammates build a stronger bonding. For examples:

  • Create some channels based on hobbies so teammates can plan some off-work activities together (#fun-foodie, #fun-sports, #fun-music)

4. Create separate channels for bots / automation

As Slack offers a lot of useful integrations, it’s common that teams have set up some bots / automations that send updates to Slack automatically. If you expect those bots are the busy ones that will likely send numerous updates to Slack, it’s a good idea to create separate channels for them otherwise important information sent by real teammates might get buried easily by the bot messages. For examples,

  • At Kipwise, we are using Intercom as our customer support tool and we have a channel called #cs-tickets where Intercom will send us a Slack message when there is new tickets or replies received.

Use naming conventions to keep your Slack channels organized

Other than creating the right channels, using the right tactics to name your channels is also crucial to stay organized and help teammates find the channels that they need to pay attention to.

1. Use prefixes to group similar channels

One tactic that I regularly see teams using is by creating prefixes for channels that should be grouped together. For example,

  • Use the prefixes #company- for channels that all company members should pay attention to (#company-announcements, #company-competitors)
  • Use the prefixes #team- for channels that are for each internal functional team (#team-marketing, #team-sales, #team-cs)
  • Use the predefined team prefix to group all channels related to the same team (#sales-leads, #sales-wins)
  • Use the prefix #proj to group projects that involves a cross-team squad (#proj-blog-redesign, #proj-referral-program)
  • Use the prefix #fun- to group all channels that are for fun or social purposes (#fun-foodie, #fun-sports, #fun-music) В

2. Use the channel description to state purposes clearly

Other than setting proper guidelines for naming conventions, it’s also a good practice to always add a clear channel description whenever a new channel is created. For example, you may want to state clearly about what should be and shouldn’t be posted in a channel.

Slack apps tend to encounter messages most often when receiving them in Events API payloads or in request payloads when users invoke slash commands or custom actions.

However, there are some occasions where it might be necessary for an app to actively seek out a message and find it in the wild.

This guide will show you how to access the history of a Slack conversation and then pull out the details of a specific message. It will also show you how to identify threaded messages, and retrieve the replies in a thread.

Getting started with retrieving messages

One thing you’ll need before starting is a Slack app. If you don’t have one yet, here’s a very quick guide to help you create one. Make sure you create the app in a test workspace, because you’re going to be requesting some major data access permissions.

After you’ve done that, come back here and keep reading.

Requesting the necessary permissions

In a raw state, your app will only be able to view messages that are sent to it. In order to read anything else, it will need to request scopes to get permission.

There are lots of scopes available, and you can read our OAuth guide for more information on why they’re needed, and what they do. For this guide, we need to add two scopes.

The first is channels:read . That scope lets your app retrieve a list of all the public channels in a workspace so that we can pick one to retrieve a message from.

The second is channels:history . This will allow your app to view all the messages within any public channel in a workspace.

Requesting these permissions is easy:

  1. Load up the settings for your app from the app management page.
  2. In the navigation menu, choose the OAuth & Permissions feature.
  3. Scroll down to the Scopes section, and pick channels:read and channels:history from the drop down menu.
  4. Click save changes.
  5. Scroll back to the top of this page and look for the button that says Install App to Workspace (or Reinstall App if you’ve done this before). Click it.

You’ll now see a permission request screen to install your app to its original workspace.

If you had already installed your app to its original workspace before, you might still see the permissions screen if the scopes you just added weren’t previously granted to your app.

Authorize your app and you should see a success message. On the OAuth & Permissions settings page you’re brought back to, you should now see an OAuth access token available.

Grab this token and store it for later, as we’ll use that token to make some Web API calls.

Finding a conversation

In order to find a valid Slack conversation ID, we’ll use the conversations.list API method. This API will return a list of all public channels in the workspace your app is installed to. You’ll need the channels:read permission granted to your app.

Within that list, we’ll be able to find a specific id of the conversation that we want to access. Here’s an example API call: