Slack is worth paying for … if you’re a company. If you’re using Slack for an online community, though, you should probably just stick with the free version.
That’s partly because most of Slack’s paid features aren’t really necessary if you’re just using it as a group text platform, but also because the paid options get expensive quickly. Plans start at $7.25 per user per month, which means a community with two dozen people will cost $174 monthly, or over $2,000 annually. That’s likely more than you want to pay for the privilege of bantering with friends (charming as they are, I’m sure).
Still, a few of those paid Slack features are pretty nice, especially having access to your archive of old messages. And it actually is possible, if you’re willing to put in a little effort, to get that and a few other extra features without paying. Here’s how:
Get Unlimited Slack Message History for Free
The free version of Slack only lets users scroll up to or search for messages from the past 90 days—anything older can’t be found. Those messages aren’t gone, though—if you start paying they will all show up.
And there’s another loophole. Slack allows admins to export all data, including a complete backlog of all messages. Just head to Settings & Administration > Workspace Settings in Slack’s menu. The settings will open in your browser—there’s an Import/Export Data button in the top-right corner. Click that and you can choose a date range and export all messages. Note that free users cannot export Direct Messages (DMs) or private channels—only public channels. The actual archives come in a ZIP file full of JSON files, which aren’t the easiest thing in the world to read. Still, it’s all there.
A free tool called Slack Export Viewer can help by converting those files and loading them in your web browser, complete with a Slack-style sidebar for browsing channels. It works—I tested it—but you’ll need to be comfortable with the command line in order to set it up. Another option is JSON Translator, which can convert your ZIP file into an easier-to-read CSV file that you can download and open using Excel or Google Sheets. (CSV files contain data records separated by commas—hence the name.)
If you want a public archive, check out Slack Saver. You can upload the ZIP file you exported from Slack and, when the conversion is done, share a link to the complete archive with your entire community. You’ll need to update it occasionally to include more recent posts, but it works. Just keep in mind, with web-based services, that you’re uploading a complete archive of conversations people might have thought of as semi-private. Make sure your community is OK with that before proceeding.
Get Slack Huddles for Free
Slack’s Huddle feature is different from an audio call because there’s no ringing—you can just turn on the Huddle for any channel and people can show up if they want to. There’s no video, just audio and screen sharing, which makes them perfect for quick improvised conversations.
But Slack’s Huddles aren’t the only tool for the job. You could create a room in Gather, which makes virtual parties actually fun using pixel avatars that can move toward and away from each other. It’s perfect for the kind of drop-in/drop-out conversations that make Huddles so great. You can even link to a Gather room in the Topic of your Slack channels.