No one should rely on Facebook with the private details of their life, but to quote the late, great Yogi Berra: "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Facebook has become the commercial equivalent of the infinite family, high school and former workplace reunion. That's where most people we know gather online.
It has been true, even though Facebook has shown itself through a stream of misleading statements and apparently incredible lies that it treats its users as cattle in a digital abattoir. The company buys its money by cutting our component parts – birth dates, social connections, current interests, browsers – and selling them over and over to other companies. Its security and operational incompetence have also led to massive violations of our private data, so even though Facebook's promises were credible, the delivery is unreliable.
Despite all this, Facebook continues to increase revenue growth, user growth and an increase in routine use of the site. People stick to Facebook because of the networking effect – that's where family and friends are, and it's a source of "news" (despite the fact that a significant portion of alleged news on the site has no material fact, especially health news) .
Many people are disgusted with Facebook's behavior, and while some have deleted their accounts and left the service, many more reluctantly continue. Reason? "It's the only way I can communicate online with some members of my family or old friends."
What if there was another way that family or close friends could interact in an environment that allowed them to speak freely and share photos and videos without Facebook's compromises? It's: Slack.
Slack is a group messaging system aimed at businesses and organizations that combine multi-person conversations, instant messaging and file sharing. At the last report, Slack had eight million daily users, of whom three million are in paid groups. The rest use a sturdy free class, which is perfect for families.
Members of a Slack workspace can upload photos, chat on public channels, open to everyone in the group, and use private channels or direct messages for discussions that only the participants know about and can see.
My anticipation is that I have just published a new book on how social groups, non-profit organizations and businesses can use it, called Take control of slack . However, it wasn't until after the book came out that I had a conversation with TidBITS Publisher Adam Engst about how well Slack could provide secure, controlled online communication for families who are tired of Facebook. It's also a sensible solution for friends who stay in close contact and want to use a non-Facebook-owned system (like WhatsApp's) or another privacy-abusive tech giant, and support multiple platforms, unlike Apple's iMessage.  For families, Slack's combination of free apps, strong privacy and free service can be what you need to dig up Facebook without losing online connections.
- Free Programs: Because Slack offers applications and browser support on MacOS, iOS, Windows and Android, you are not bound to iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or other systems that require ecosystem purchases with a company whose interests do not match with yours.
- Strong privacy: Slack s Privacy is robust, because the company treats anyone who sets up a Slack group as their customer, does not investigate messages or media posted to groups, does not post, and does not publish and sell information for marketing purposes. Slack promises to keep your data private and goes out of the way to demand that governments go through appropriate protection measures and hoops to get messages. (In my book I look at Slack's warranties in detail.)
- Free service: The company makes its money money at its paid service levels, allowing it to operate its free tier as a relatively trivial marketing cost.
Slacks can be such a good way for families to communicate that it can even bring back relatives who gave up on other societies.
What can the family do with slack?
Slack is designed around conversation chat, but structured! – It continues in a long chronological stream. This formal informal conversation works well for family groups, where most of what you want to say is negligible on a large scale, and it's all about being social.
Each Slack workspace acts as an independent call page. The person who sets up the workspace invites people, who become members . Only members can view a workspace or post it. Each workspace is completely private: without logging in, no one else can see anything at all.
Slack workspaces give a sense of place : all discussion is organized in a public or private conversation. Public conversations take place in channels, which are open to all members of the Slack group as chat rooms. These channels work best with descriptive names that let people know why to join.
For families, I recommend setting up public channels at branches of an extended family (so that the sister can ignore the in-laws 'calls), parts of the country (so relatives living elsewhere do not need to see the local family members' dinner plans), and events (like Thanksgiving dinner or reunion). Channels help to divide discussions so that people interested in only specific topics or a particular branch of the family are not overwhelmed by irrelevant chats.
Private conversations can take place in private channels, which are completely hidden from anyone who has I been invited to the channel by the author, and direct messages (DM), which work just like group clubs or Twitter-DM and are similarly invisible for other Slack workplace members.
Members can upload files of any kind to a conversation, so Slack is a great way to share photos, movies, Word files and PDF files. There is another way to create a formatted post in Slack that anyone can see and possibly collaborate on.
As with all messaging apps, alerts are important. Slack has put a lot of effort into it and offers native alerts across every platform it supports, including browser-based alerts in MacOS and Windows for their web apps.
Despite its many benefits to family communication, Slack is not perfect. The messages, for example, are so flexible that it can be confusing to set them up for less experienced users. More on that soon.
Scissor restrictions on free work areas should not affect families. Free Slack workspaces can only view and search over the last 10,000 messages and use the one-to-one, non-group conversation and video features.
There is one problem for families who are part of Slack's privacy rules: Specifically, they prohibit under 16 from using their service, likely due to the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). In the US, children 13 and older may consent to reveal personal information, but GDPR raised that age of 16. Canada has no legal minimum age. In both the US and the EU, a parent can give consent, but apparently Slack will not enter the detailed level.
Having said that, Slack's enforcement is minimal. It is noted: "If you learn that someone younger than 16 has illegally provided us with personal information, please contact us and we will take steps to delete such information." I would not advise you to use a service and violate the rules, but it is also clear that this is Slack's attempt to comply with the regulations without enforcing them.
Slack's main limitation on family use is the lack of any way to group images and videos. You can upload and view media, but there is no gallery feature. If important, paste links to galleries stored elsewhere, including shared iCloud albums, or use Flickr. Flickr's new owners, SmugMug, have robust privacy policies and only display ads on the limited Flickr-free level. Your family can purchase a single Flickr Pro account ($ 50 per year) and share photos in private albums.
Start a slack work area and invite your family
If I have convinced you to give Slack a try, talk to your family and make sure all the people you want to join in are willing to install and use the apps. As any change, it may require some persuasion, but explaining just how bad Facebook is, can help. You can also encourage them to read this article. I recommend promising to help those who are less experienced, technically.
You can also start small: you do not invite everyone at the same time, and you may want to start with your nuclear family or some of the savviest family members and then build from there.
When you have enough purchases, follow these steps.
One of Slack's main advantages and great difficulties has to do with alerts. The system is good at notifying you in a number of situations that someone has posted on a channel, mentioned you by name, or responded to a direct message. But people may not always receive these alerts.
Some relatives may have null messages, and will start Slack once a day or so to check for updates manually, much as they can visit Facebook. Others may want to have notifications on the smartphone, but no one on the desktop (or vice versa). Still, others more may notify than standard for specific channels and calls. You can also set a "do not disturb" period when all messages are muted, which is useful if a nephew in college likes to post funny photos late at night. Slackers require some adjustment to get right, and you can spend most time with the family who expect this section. (My book has extensive details on how to work with Slack's notification settings.)
You should expect at least a small technical support burden for members of the group when people get used to the system. It's true for any digital project you're trying to get other people involved in, but at least Slack has a limited set of features and own online help – it's a lot easier for a new user than anything like Facebook. (And of course you can always turn to or recommend Take control of slack – it's even a bulk discount.)
Switching to a slack work area won't solve all the issues with Facebook. But it will help you and your relatives take a step away from the sausage producers of "free" social sites that exist to crush your personal information in cash. As Apple, Slack treats you as a customer, not a raw material to make money.