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Slack vs. Campfire

Slack logo on fire

Jaakko Alajoki, April 14, 2016

Slack is a team chat app that is widely used these days and we are using it at Evermade as well. When we started the company five years ago we had an IRC channel, then we switched to Skype and now we are using Slack. It’s our primary internal communication channel and definitely one of the most important tools we use daily. Slack finally killed internal emails. It’s powerful, easy to use, reliable, fun, flexible and mobile – but we were still unhappy.

The problem with Slack is the noise. We have a lot of channels and a lot of discussions going on. The problem is that too often valuable information is drowning deep into the backlogs – and the free version has a very limited chat history so old messages are actually disappearing. We have project-related Slack channels and at the same time, we use Basecamp to manage projects. Because Slack is so easy we use it for all internal communication but sometimes it would be a better idea to open a new Basecamp discussion thread or even add a to-do item to keep things more organized.

The new Basecamp 3 comes with a bundled chat called Campfire. Each project has it own Campfire and Basecamp also provides private chats – they are called Pings. So in theory we won’t need Slack anymore, because Basecamp offers the same functionality! It doesn’t cost any extra and provides unlimited chat history out of the box. We decided to try. We agreed that we’ll try to live a week without Slack and we would use Campfire instead.

During the short Campfire testing period we encountered these issues:

  • The biggest issue of Campfire is the notification system. Slack has very powerful notification settings to make sure that you receive only the information you need. There isn’t that much control in Campfire and you end up having notifications from things you really don’t want to get. This is important because unwanted notifications are ruining your productivity.
  • You cannot see all channels at a glance – you need to open the Campfire menu to see channels and notifications.
  • Switching channels required multiple clicks.
  • UI is not as clean as Slack.
  • One user had an issue when sending messages. Restarting the browser didn’t help.
  • The mobile app is slower.
  • Campfire is missing nice keyboard shortcuts (ex. CMD + K for switching discussions).
  • You can’t include formatted code snippets (a feature we use a lot).
  • No custom emoticons! Doesn’t make Friday feel like a Friday.

After a while, we decided to go back to Slack. But the interesting thing was that we already saw that Campfire started to solve the original problem. Instead of chatting, we started to create threads and we started to be more project-focused and organized. In a way, it was working! But still, the usability issues and the lack of crucial features made us go back to Slack – which is better but not perfect.