Remember AOL Instant Messenger? Sure you do. There is something addictive about chat applications, even if the habit is shortlived. Today’s hottest messaging service for office workers is Slack. The chat service was launched one year ago and is now reportedly fundraising at a $2.8bn valuation. Even by Silicon Valley standards, that is fast.
Slack is a small player in the rapidly growing market for enterprise communication and collaboration. The real guts of this market are in file sharing and collaborative editing; Slack has only rudimentary file sharing and comment options. A host of companies are elbowing for market share. Box, a newly-listed company with an enterprise value of $1.7bn, offers file sharing that meets regulatory requirements in industries such as healthcare and finance. Dropbox, a private company with a $10bn valuation, has a large base of individual users and is increasingly targeting businesses.
The most powerful players in collaboration, however, are Google and Microsoft. Google’s Drive allows both file sharing and collaboration. It has a generous free tier followed by paid storage subscriptions. Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), operates much the same way: users can upload photos and employees can share Word or Excel files. OneDrive is included in most Office subscriptions.
Partnerships have come in waves. Dropbox partnered with OneDrive late last year; Box became an official Microsoft cloud storage partner this month. Slack can integrate with Dropbox and OneDrive. Microsoft has been signing deals to put OneDrive on the homescreen of more phones. The list goes on. The deals (and AOL Messenger’s experience) point to an ugly truth for standalone programs like Slack, Box and Dropbox: collaboration tools are only as powerful and enduring as the software platforms they are built on. Here, Google and Microsoft have a big advantage.
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