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Stride is a new Slack competitor from the makers of Hipchat

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Can it help Atlassian grow?

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Hipchat, the venerable team communication app owned by business software maker Atlassian, is making way for a sequel. The company today introduced Stride, which replicates the core of Hipchat while adding natively hosted audio and video meetings, task and decision tracking, and a “focus” mode that collects important notifications for you while you concentrate on getting things done.

The app, which will roll out “gradually” on the web, MacOS, iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux, illustrates the tech industry’s growing fascination with team communication apps. Slack launched in 2013 and rocketed to 5 million daily users and 1.5 million paying customers — a speed of growth that is all but unheard of for business software. Its success has attracted challenges from large competitors including Microsoft, which launched the Slack clone Teams last year, and Google, which reimagined Hangouts as something closer to Slack this spring.

Hipchat actually predated Slack, launching in 2010 as an updated take on internet relay chat. It offered the same chat rooms and direct messages as IRC, with an easier-to-use interface and modern features like file attachments and company-specific emoji. When Slack arrived in 2013, it looked much the same. But where Hipchat positioned itself as a simple communication tool, Slack promised it would become the command center for your entire organization. It attracted and promoted powerful integrations with other business software, and became the canonical place for companies to discuss all of it.

As a result, Hipchat never broke out of its niche. Atlassian, which owns other business tools including JIRA and Trello, has never disclosed how many people use Hipchat, saying only that it has 90,000 total paying customers across all of its apps. Stride, which is being announced ahead of Atlassian’s developer conference next week, represents an effort to reset the debate about team collaboration, in a way that works in Atlassian’s favor.

Steven Goldsmith, who oversees all of Atlassian’s communication products, says Stride is designed to solve three big problems with team chat apps like Slack. One, he says, they encourage discussion but not necessarily action. Stride allows you to create a task from the main chat interface and assign it to a co-worker. The app also has an interface for basic task tracking. Similarly, you can also create “decisions” in Stride — markers for when someone on your team has resolved a discussion.

Second, Goldsmith says, most conferencing tools are terrible. (This is objectively true.) Stride built its own audio and video chat, and says it’s better than everyone else’s. Of course, everyone says that, and Atlassian didn’t offer us a chance to test it out. So, let’s check in again on this in six months or so. But Goldsmith notes that Stride video conferencing is free even on its paid tier, which may help it steal users away from rivals like Zoom.

Finally, Goldsmith says, most team chat apps offer an overwhelming amount of information. Open Slack when you wake up and you may have a dozen or more notifications from coworkers around the world. Stride attempts to solve this by letting you enter “focus” mode for one or more hours, collecting any notifications you receive in the meantime for you to review later. When you return to Stride, you’ll get a readout of any messages, assigned tasks, and decisions made in your absence.

There’s a free version of Stride that offers limited message history and file storage. For $3 per user per month, you get unlimited messages and file storage, plus the ability to add guests to video chats. (That’s a buck more than Hipchat cost.) Hipchat isn’t disappearing immediately, but its employees are almost all working on Stride now, and it’s where Atlassian plans to focus most of its team-communication energy now.

Will it work? I suspect most Hipchat users will find Stride to be a nice upgrade over its predecessor, assuming they can get their IT department to pay for it. (Companies that are paying for Hipchat now can sign up for a year of Stride at the old price, and Atlassian will port over their old chats to the new app.)

I’m less certain it will attract wide swathes of new users: the company had little to say about Slack’s signature feature, integrations, other than that Stride has a robust API and all of Hipchat’s most popular integrations will be available for Stride at launch. And the app’s most singular features — tasks, decisions, and focus mode — would seem to be rather easily copied by rivals, assuming they prove to be popular.

It’s worth noting that Slack’s approach to problems like information overload and team decision-making has been to say that, in time, the solutions will come from artificial intelligence. The company has invested significantly in machine learning, and has rolled out limited personalization features, such as one that suggests you leave certain channels that you are not frequently using.

Machine-learning tools today can’t reliably identify decisions within our team chats, or discern when a comment ought to be turned into a task and tracked. Stride’s response today is to ask workers to do those things themselves, structuring the data themselves using software. In the long run, it seems smarter to bet on automation to solve this problem. But for the work to be done today, for at least some teams, Stride may prove worth a look.