Slack's new Canvas feature may help bring order to the channel chaos

This new feature helps organize any data critical to a specific project or purpose, reducing the time team members spend searching for info on the platform.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
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Thomas Trutschel/Contributor/Getty Images

Slack has officially released a new feature that is meant to provide a more meaningful way for employees to curate information crucial to a specific project or purpose. 

First introduced last September, the Canvas feature creates a space in which teams can capture, organize, and share any information from different sources, including messages, apps, rich media, and workflows. Files can be uploaded directly into the canvas or embedded links can redirect to other platforms, such as Dropbox and Google Drive

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On each canvas, you can track action items, log meeting notes, and list key stakeholders alongside their respective responsibilities. 

Canvases can be used to support projects or purposes, such as onboarding for a new employee or keeping a directory of personnel key to an employee's role, including social media handles and photos of teammates and HR. Each canvas can contain video clips welcoming a new employee, a checklist of documents and tasks to complete in the first week of employment, and links to company policies relevant to the employee's role. 

Processes or workflows also can be automated and embedded within a canvas, so businesses can generate work tasks specific to their workplace, such as including a button prompt to request corporate phones. 

Canvases can be tagged to any channel or conversation within Slack, so information can be pulled to a central location for easier reference. 

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Canvas provides an "evergreen" place where relevant information can be aggregated and accessed, even after projects have concluded or former teammates have left the company, said Ali Rayl, Slack's senior vice president of product. 

She added that canvases enhance real-time collaboration already available on Slack, letting colleagues collaborate in a more meaningful and productive way within the platform. Canvases also can be brought into a huddle, Slack's video conferencing function that allows team members to discuss and make edits to reports in real time. 

It offers a user-friendly surface that captures and curates knowledge, Rayl said in a video interview with ZDNET ahead of the launch. Since channels can get cluttered as more information is added, canvases provide a sustainable way with which to curate and reorganize knowledge over time, she said. 

Coupled with Slack's search engine, which powers queries from users who spend an average of 10 hours a week on the platform, she added that canvas users can easily retrieve information in the future. 

Given the growing interest in generative artificial intelligence, ZDNET asked how this could impact new features on Slack. Rayl acknowledged the potential and opportunities it could create. For instance, users can prompt the platform to pull up key milestones of a project or to go through the archives to locate how a specific case was resolved, so the people involved can be identified and consulted on a similar project. 

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AI can be used to generate reports and knowledge based on canvases, point teams towards additional resources -- including external sources that they can tap -- and offer a guide on how these can be integrated into a workflow development cycle. 

With so many possibilities, it will be a case of what should be prioritized and further developed, Rayl said. 

She noted that Salesforce in March announced a collaboration with OpenAI to introduce a ChatGPT app for Slack. The app integrates AI technology to deliver conversation summaries, research tools, and writing assistance directly in Slack.

Canvas is released to general availability starting today. Customers on paid plans are also given access to standalone canvases along with free access to the feature in channels and DMs. 

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