Email the members of a Slack channel and never use a listserv again

By Max Brawer

Part of my new series on Vigilante Product Management.

Let’s get one thing straight: even with all the technology in the world, maintaining email lists in 2018 is an inadequate experience. So I set out to build a Gmail app that makes it easy.

At each of my jobs, every group had a ‘communications’ lead or an executive assistant who spent hours of their time maintaining a Google or MailChimp-based list of emails. Google Groups remains unrefreshed in design and hard to navigate, and if the emails are kept somewhere else, they don’t update when people leave— my personal account still gets newsletters from two jobs ago!

Even when email lists are functioning nicely, it’s still hard to know who is on them. At BuzzFeed, I get asked “who is on this email” or get an erroneous email to the wrong handle at least weekly. Yes, one could log into Google Groups and join/leave things, but they just don’t do it. If only there were a way people could affiliate themselves with a working group without any extra work? 🤔

I pitched this idea to someone at Slack and immediately realized it would go nowhere. Slack is incentivized to replace email, and will gladly let you pipe an email into a Slack channel, but to my suggestion, they asked “why not just Slack that channel?” It’s a rational question, but humans are irrational. Slack is amazing, but it’s just not going to kill email (yet, anyways). When it comes to forwards, custom links, formatted campaigns, and important to-dos you just don’t want people to miss, we still prefer to email.

I decided to use Google’s new Gmail Add-ons feature like I did with Face to a Name. I’m going it alone with only moderate engineering skills, so I’d love to get feedback from any developers reading this (and user feedback from anyone who would be interested in using this!). Here’s what I’ve got:

My add-on is built into Gmail’s composer. A little Slack icon appears in the bottom of every new mail:

See the little logo? Innit pretty?

On click, a modal pops up with the list of select Slack channels (our E.R.G. channels to start). Simply click on one to scrape that entire channel for the members’ emails!

Now, my problem: I can’t find any method to directly update the “To” field of the draft with these emails. If you’re reading this from Google, or if you have the answer, please let me know!

I settled on outputting the email list so you can copy and paste. It’s annoying that I cannot get multi-line support (another code issue), but this does technically allow the user to conjure up all those emails in a channel:

People kind of hate it, though, so I’d love to see this through to the final step of automatically populating the Gmail fields.

Do you think this is a tool you would use? If you are interested, let me know or leave a comment below. If you want to help me modify the To field from an add-on, please let me know! And if you’re from Google, I look forward to seeing the add-on functionality expand in the near future.

Max is Head of People Analytics at BuzzFeed and loves to write, share and consult on his work. If you liked this story, I bet you’ll love my HR music video. Reach out: inquiries@maxbrawer.com