Among the current team chat services, Slack is clearly the most popular. For many companies, paying for Slack’s services is an investment in their communication and culture. Still, for some teams, using Slack’s Free plan is the only option, because even the least expensive Standard plan has subscription pricing which is prohibitive for groups of hobbyists or open source communities.
If you can’t pay for Slack, you can probably stop using it altogether (and maybe use IRC instead, like some suggest). That’s a tough proposition, actually. With most people already accustomed to Slack, you’ll have a hard time convincing them to use something else instead.
So the only real choice is to learn how to live with a free Slack plan.
In our experience, the three main annoyances of using Slack for free are the limits on files, integrations and visible messages in the archive.
Uploaded files are usually not an annoyance at first. For free teams, Slack gives a generous limit of 5 GB on file storage. If you don’t upload anything large, these 5 GB will last for some time.
The problems start when the free space eventually runs empty, with storage filled with thousands of small files which you can only delete one by one from the Slack web interface. Fortunately, you can purge them with scripts that use Slack API to mass delete old files.
On the free plan, you’re limited to 10 integrations. That’s actually quite OK (previously, the limit was just 5 integrations). Also, in case you have really run out of integration slots, there’s an escape hatch: you can use incoming webhooks to send any messages from the outside. For example, we’ve been using a Git hook that notifies us about new commits and a custom Trello-Slack integration both targeted to a single incoming webhook. You’ll have to find (or write) some custom code and fiddle a bit with setting it up, but it’s possible.
Slack allows free users to browse and search the 10,000 most recent messages. In our experience, this was the biggest pain, as seeing the message history gradually disappearing leaves a feeling of being slowly robbed. This was the reason we came up with Slarck.com, and thus the hard problem got an easy solution.
If some of your messages are already behind the 10K limit, you can export the message history of your public channels from the beginning of time and upload it to Slarck.com. Uploaded archives are not updated automatically, but provide a good starting point for archive keeping. You’ll also need to be a team admin to export the message history.
Update: Now, you can also connect a Slack account with Slarck.com, and Slarck.com will start collecting your personal archive (including private channels you participate in, and your DMs). This connected archive won’t contain any messages already behind the 10,000 message limit, and at first, it will look exactly like what Slack itself displays you. But over time, unlike with Slack, all messages already in the archive will stay there and not disappear. And you don’t have to be an admin for that.
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All these things do require some effort, but all in all, you can avoid a lot of frustrations of free Slack if you’re willing to do some legwork.