Slack announces Canvas, the collaborative tool that will presents contextual info for each channel, assists users edit paperwork in-app, and more, being released in 2023 (David Pierce/The Verge)

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It’s not quite Google Docs, but it’s much more than a messenger

A canvas is a document that lives inside — and works with — Slack.
Image: Slack

Slack is becoming a document editor. The Salesforce-owned company announced today at its developer conference that it is building a new feature, called Canvas, that will let users create and edit full docs from within the Slack interface. It’s one of Slack’s biggest announcements in a while and maybe its biggest departure ever from its email-killer roots .

The idea behind bringing documents to Slack seems to have been to match everything about Slack that’s productive and useful but pull it out of a fast-moving chat window and into a more permanent and findable space. Canvas documents (which Slack calls canvases) can obviously contain text and images, but one big advantage they have is Slack’s ability to grab important content from any link pasted into the app. Put a YouTube link, a tweet, or now a document, and it’ll embed the content automatically. Through Slack’s many integrations with other apps, you can also interact with third-party tools right from within a canvas. Each canvas is part document, part low-code website, with all the features inside Slack.

Several people typing inside a Slack canvas.

Several people typing inside a Slack canvas.

Canvas docs are collaborative, and all their comments are just Slack threads.
Image: Slack

The most immediate purpose the feature will serve is as a big upgrade for Slack’s pins and bookmarks. Both were designed to make important messages and links easier to find but too easily turn into context-free places where you can’t find anything, and nobody bothers to look anyway. (I just checked one Verge Slack channel, and there are 51 pinned items. That’s not helping anybody. ) Instead of pinning a bunch of messages with helpful links for new hires, Slack imagines you might just make a canvas with all the forms they need, information to know, and workflows to follow on their first day.  

You can create one-off documents through Canvas, but each channel will also now automatically have its own associated page. Slack imagines you might use those as a hub for all the important details, links, and information users need for that channel. “That extends the way in which people are already using Slack today, ” says Nate Botwick, a VP of product at Slack. Botwick previously worked at Quip, which Salesforce acquired in 2016 and which powers a lot of the technology underlying Canvas. “It takes their channels, which have already been built out and map to their organizational priorities, and adds an area to curate and organize information for that channel. ”

At first, Botwick says, Slack Canvas is less a competitor to Google Docs and Notion and much more a way to find your Google and Notion stuff more easily. In the end, though, it sure sounds like Slack is attempting to compete with Google Docs and Notion. “You could do things like work on a newsletter or an organizational announcement and send it out into one channel or many channels, ” he says. For now, Canvas exists only inside the Slack ecosystem — there’s no public connect to a Canvas doc or a way to share it over email — but that’s likely to change as time passes.  

A GIF showing a Slack canvas inside a channel.

A GIF showing a Slack canvas inside a channel.

Any Slack channel at this time gets a fabric, which is much more helpful than a bunch of social bookmarking and pins.
a:hover]: text-black [&> a]: shadow-underline-gray-63 [&> a:hover]: shadow-underline-black text-gray-63″> Look: Slack

Canvas written documents are collaborative, far too, so multiple consumers can work inside definitely one at the same time, and all the in a document tend to be treated as an appearance Slack thread. “When there’s new task or comments or perhaps questions on a painting, ” Botwick states that, “I think the particular probability that a person will see it earlier and respond to this sooner is much better because it’s practically all coming in through Slack, and people are wasting so much time presently there. ” 

Slack has spent the previous few years trying to shift from a messaging app to a full productivity tool centered around messaging. But message windows aren’t the proper interface for every thing, and neither is text chat. That’s why Slack has invested in Huddles and Clips to bring video and audio into the process quicker and why it’s embracing Canvas to do exactly the same with documents. Slack used to contend with Microsoft Teams ; it’s starting to contend with Office as a whole. That’s a tough and costly strategy, though, and of course an increasingly common one, as Zoom yet others also try to steal market share from the productivity giants.  

Canvas is in testing now but isn’t arriving at most Slack users until next year. Botwick says there’s still lots to complete and fine-tune between now and then. He’s contemplating how it all works on mobile, particularly —  Canvas will undoubtedly be in Slack’s mobile apps at launch, but smaller screens demand different interfaces, and Botwick says that “it will likely take us a little longer to make it certainly great on mobile. ” When you boil it down, though, he says it’s just a document editor. In Slack. Right next to the chat thread where it belongs.

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