Team communication startup Slack has always billed itself as more than just a chat app. The company sees its software as a the hub of workplace productivity, with the spokes of the wheel being third-party integrations to any number of products and services customers rely on day in and day out. Now, Slack is dialing up one of those partnerships — its integrations with Google Drive — to make its app that much more useful for completing tasks without having to jump in and out of different app windows.
Starting next year, Google Drive will automatically extend permissions on a file to any member of a Slack channel the file is shared to. So instead of having to manually alter who can access the file, Slack will do it for you. You’ll also be able to view more detailed previews of a file’s contents, whether it’s a document or spreadsheet, right within Slack. And to save time, a new Google Drive Slack bot will now take over notification duties from Gmail, pinging you about edits and other changes to a file. You’ll then be able to approve, reject, and resolve comments and changes to that file from buttons in the bot’s message thread.
On an organizational level, Slack is also making it easier to merge Google Drive accounts for entire teams with individual Slack channels. That way, changes in one environment, like new files uploaded or updates pushed live, will reflect immediately in the other. This intertwining with Google is perhaps Slack’s deepest level of third-party integrations thus far. It illustrates better than ever how Slack plans to evolve its service, not by morphing the core app to meet new needs, but by letting other companies implant those features directly into Slack.
There is a more subtle reason Slack may be courting Google as its primary partner. The startup recently had a public dispute with Microsoft, which just launched a Slack competitor called Microsoft Teams. In an escalating of tensions, Slack published a full-page ad in The New York Times in the spirit of Apple’s infamous 1981 welcome letter to IBM after the corporate giant entered the PC race. The move was evidence that Slack leadership felt Microsoft had stepped into its territory. And while Apple’s original ad was designed to patronize IBM by highlighting its late arrival, Slack’s effort may have cast itself as a vulnerable startup overtly concerned with being crushed by a free alternative.
For Microsoft, of course, Google is much more of a competitor than Slack. In that scenario, Google Drive is the dangerous free alternative to Microsoft’s Office 365 product, the very same subscription that nets more than 85 million Office users a free ticket to its Teams app. So it would seem Slack is more interested in cozying up to Google than indirectly making it easier to use Microsoft products in the workplace.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the new Google Drive integrations are available today. They will not be live until 2017.