What is it?
This is a pattern found in Slack. When users type a special character within a text input, like a slash (/), a pound sign (#) (a.k.a hashtag) or an at sign (@), Slack will reveal a menu with specific functionality that allows users to invoke a command or mention a channel/person.
How does this interaction or pattern work?
Slack has rapidly become the standard communication tool for modern companies. Although conceptually Slack is a simple chat divided that organizes conversation in channels and peer to peer conversations, there's a wild and complex amount of functionality that allows its users to automate communications workflows and augment conversations.
As part of the platform functionality, Slack provides features like connecting bots that take over certain communication tasks or push specific information into specific channels. Slack also allows to re-focus the attention of communication threads by giving its users the ability to mention other users or entire channels directly.
Although all this functionality is a crucial feature of Slack, the app doesn't surface this features through common UI components. Instead, the app uses the core chat functionality as the primary path to access all these functions.
If a user types the Slash (/) character, Slack will summon a special menu listing all the commands that can be invoked based on the current installation and connected apps.
Users can learn specific commands that can rapidly trigger app specific or third-party functionality. For example, if a user types "/away" Slack will toggle the user's "Away" status.
Slack also provides other paths to summon additional functionality like mentions. Users can type the pound sign (#) or the at sign (@) and Slack which reveal a menu with all the available channels/users and work as a search that filter downs the results as the user types. On submission, Slack will notify the selected channel or user.
How does it help or delight the user?
Reducing Friction, Discoverability, Navigability, Power User
As web technologies keep evolving, the available software will become more holistic and feature-rich. Slack is just an example of the many apps that are becoming platforms that are giving its customers a wide range of features and functionality to accomplish complex workflows.
Models like the character summoning, give platforms like Slack, the ability to extend and grow their functionality without modifying their UI and relying on existing paradigms.
The character summoning model also serves as a user navigation method that improves the app experience, increases user productivity by reducing the friction of unpredictable UI, favors discoverability by giving users a showcase of available commands/functions and slowly turn casual users into power users that can achieve more with less within the Slack ecosystem.
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