Slack vs. Discord: Which is Right for You?
In the world of messaging applications, there’s no shortage of options. For those looking to go beyond SMS or Instant Messaging options, Slack and Discord are great options. Knowing the difference between the two will lead your team to better communication.
Slack and Discord are not just Instant Messaging options, they’re platforms that integrate several layers for group usability.
Slack is widely popular with businesses, journalists, and other team-based users. Those looking for a method of communicating with their teams while also being able to share files, images, and other media should look into Slack.
In many ways, Slack isn’t just a messaging app—it’s a full cloud-based productivity suite built for businesses and professionals to communicate with their team members and fellow employees. But don’t let its professional attire fool you: Slack is great for personal use, too.
Let’s take a look at the full Slack experience, and what you can expect to see when using this app with your friends and coworkers alike.
Although a general communication app, Slack was truly aimed at taking over email and other productivity apps businesses use daily. From the start, the company, media, and publishers alike all positioned the app as an “email killer,” something that could be used to completely remove the need to email your coworkers daily for contact.
With the ability to sort your messages and conversations into channels, sync with your already-existing software like Microsoft Office, and support for a wide variety of file types and uploads, it’s no wonder teams have found Slack perfect for their workflow.
Though the app takes some time to get used to, with a fairly steep learning curve for new users, it’s also one of the most powerful office and productivity apps we’ve seen on the market today, with a rich feature-set that makes using the app a breeze—and at times, a burden as well.
Once you’ve set up your Slack team’s custom URL for chatting, each user can create and sign in to their account then login to your team’s workplace. Slack supports two-factor authentication to keep their accounts secure and safe.
Once you’ve loaded into an application, you’ll see the main interface for Slack, as well as what the app is primarily known for: channels. Using hashtags similar to Twitter, Slack allows you to create multiple channels within a single URL for communication.
This means both management and teams can have their own chat services, allowing communication to occur organically and with only the people who need to be involved with a conversation.
Slack offers the ability to maintain persistent, always-active chat rooms, options for private groups and rooms, and the ability to send DMs (direct messages) to specific users outside of channels. This cloud-based app uses a proprietary backend system for maintaining your messages.
In terms of channels, it allows a group to have multiple messages going on at once. Organizing your chats through this method is far easier to read that you would otherwise expect. This means you can divide your workforce into teams, allowing them to chat about their specific project or goal without distracting other teams and team members from their work. Going beyond business, Slack can be used to organize any teams or groups of people.
A channel can be set to private or public, allowing anyone who wants to join to enter the conversation—or, on the other hand, stopping certain users from being able to access that specific channel.
Though the channels method in Slack is powerful, a messaging app is only as good as the actual act of messaging. Luckily for anyone looking for a cloud-based messaging suite, Slack is not just competent at messaging—it’s excellent.
In addition to the channel and private messaging features discussed above, Slack also supports VoIP and video calls between users. Both the web and mobile app interface allow answering phone calls without much effort.
Because the calls are made right within Slack, there’s no exchange of contacts or outside links to communicate over a voice or video call. These calls can take place within both public and private channels, as well as within a direct message between two users.
The basic chat interface is pretty simple to use, especially on mobile. Your available channels are open to the left of the messaging window. Your starred channels are available at the top of the display, which allows you to quickly access your favorite channels within the app.
Listed below your channels are any and all direct messages you’ve shared with others. Along the bottom of the app are options for setting your online status and availability, allowing you to mute or hide your online presence.
The main chat interface takes up the majority of the app on both mobile and desktop, with an inline view of everyone’s conversations. The channel name is displayed at the top of the screen, and every user has their own avatars and chat colors below to designate who’s speaking and when.
Finally, on desktop, you can open a “file-sharing” view to the right of messages, allowing for content to be shared within the app easily without using your computer’s file browser.
Within the chat view, a taskbar along the bottom of the display gives you options for using the basic chat interface to communicate. Six different icons along the bottom of the display give you options to send different files and other media to your other channel users.
A permanent emoji icon allows you to select and view from Slack’s own emoji library, though you can also use your own device’s emoji collection if you’d rather access them from your keyboard of choice.
A shortcut to your device’s camera (on mobile) allows you to take and send a picture right from your own device’s camera interface. You can also select images from your gallery using the third icon from the left. Slack’s wide support for file types is no secret, and attaching a file allows you to open all of your recent images within your device.
The final two buttons within Slack’s toolbar allow you to quickly enter commands and tags. Entering a command is accomplished by using the “slash” (/) command within your text. This will suggest a list of tags for you to use to communicate with your group or change how Slack operates.
For example, /apps open the app directory inside Slack, while /dm allows you to begin a direct message to another user. Tags, meanwhile, function like a tag on Twitter or Facebook: type an at (@) symbol, which will load a list of usernames and contacts within that Slack channel, allowing you to tag them in a message. This will alert the user they’ve been tagged in a message automatically.
Overall, Slack’s messaging UI is solid, with a professional appearance without coming off as too boring or monotone. It’s an app that allows you to communicate with friends and coworkers alike, without either conversation appearing out of place.
Tools and Features
One of the biggest features we’ve yet to touch on is Slack’s searchability, which is built into every channel and makes it easy to find messages, users, and more within the app. By selecting the search icon within a channel, you can view both your search history and any suggested filters for finding a message you’re looking for.
Though there’s a learning curve to Slack, being able to properly utilize Slack’s search functionality is one of the key components to properly using the app to its full potential.
The search tag will automatically allow you to search every message from the person who last sent a message inside that channel, for example, or every message from the past thirty days of communication. You can even search for starred messages by using has:star, which means stars can act like saved messages.
Files are also searchable, and you can use the same tag system detailed above to search through files. This makes it easy to find a planning document sent by your boss or project leader, or a poster mockup sent by someone in your group’s leadership.
Searching through content within Slack is one of the best features it offers. Making it easy to find a message or document is quicker and simpler.
Slack also has a few miscellaneous features built into the app for ease of use. The desktop app supports screen sharing in video calls, allowing for Slack to be used as a presentation tool in addition to its communication standards.
Guest accounts are also available within Slack, so that external vendors, freelancers, and temporary users can access their necessary channels without having to be granted full access to your Slack workspace.
Slack has a large library of third-party apps that can plug into Slack on desktop, including file management through Google Drive, source code file sharing through GitHub, and the ability to track your sales numbers within Slack using Salesforce. These add-ons and bots are incredibly powerful tools for users and businesses to take advantage of, and can seriously save time throughout normal use.
One place Slack does fall short in is its customization. For better or worse, the app looks more or less the same for every user, without the ability to change the colors of menus or the general interface, making it difficult to customize and make the app feel like it’s your own.
Slack also doesn’t allow you to work in more than one workspace at once, so if you’re a freelancer involved in multiple Slack groups, you’ll be switching between the two accounts often in order to juggle the two groups.
Platforms and Pricing
Administrators have several options for purchasing more features with slack. The options are as follows:
The Free Plan
Here’s what you’ll get with the free plan:
- 10,000 messages in the message history
- Integration with other software such as; Google Drive and Office 365
- 5GB of memory
- Voice and video calls
- Two-Factor authentication for security
- Access to one workspace
With the first tier paid plan you’ll receive:
- Limitless message history
- Unlimited integrations with other software
- Voice and Video calls with up to 15 teammates
- 10GB storage per teammate
- External collaboration from within Slack’s secure interface
- OAuth Google for user access
The plus plan offers:
- SAML- based SSO
- 24-Hour support with 4 hour response time guarantee
- Ability to implement compliance requirements
Each of the categories offer everything from the previous package with more features.
Slack may have begun life as a tool used by game developers, but Discord relates to the gaming industry. Unlike Slack’s own focus on professionalism, Discord was born out of the necessity for a way to communicate with other players while playing online competitive or cooperative video games.
Though the app has a full chat-based application, as well as clients for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, the app is primarily known for its VoIP interface that allows for latency-free calls over a dedicated Discord server. This makes for a better gaming and recording experience than anything you’d see through Skype or Google Hangouts. Let’s take a look at what makes this app so interesting for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Unsurprisingly, Discord’s main audience is the gaming community, and more specifically any and all users looking for a lag-free experience while gaming online, either over console or PC.
Applications like Skype have an unfortunate history of taxing systems and other devices, making it difficult to obtain a strong connection in-game without experiencing lag or slowdowns that can cost a player a decisive victory in-game.
Though other gaming-based VoIP solutions have existed before—most notably Teamspeak—these apps have often been complicated to set up, requiring the exchange of IP addresses instead of using a basic contact system similar to what we’ve seen from applications like Skype or Hangouts.
These apps also didn’t offer dedicated mobile apps, limiting their usefulness to PC-only interfaces.
That doesn’t mean that Discord isn’t limiting itself to the gaming audience, but it does mean the application is positioned for gamers. Discord’s logo is designed to look like a game controller, and the front page of its website displays illustrations of gaming headsets and controllers.
The app also makes note of some very gamer-specific things while installing, including an acknowledgment of memes while the app checks for updates when opening.
This isn’t to say you have to be a gamer to use Discord, but Discord certainly focuses itself on gaming and the gaming community, and you’ll feel more at home here as a gamer than a businessman or advertiser.
Unlike Slack, Discord focuses its energy primarily on its VoIP features, and they stand out among the crowd here. Discord offers a faster and more reliable connection than other popular messaging services.
The basic interface of the app on the desktop is fairly clean, with a dark purple theme displayed by default. Along the far left of the display is your server display, allowing you to switch or join a new server assuming you have the correct invite to join a group.
Servers can be both public and private. Users can set up a messaging platform between themselves and acquaintances or the public with common interests.
The left panel of the page is filled with channels, similar to what we’ve seen previously from Slack. These channels are all contained within the single server and are typically labeled with their own title.
There are also several different voice channels dedicated to jumping in to speak, each with the capability of holding up to six people per channel. The chat interface, meanwhile, is relatively similar to any other online chat service, with a scrolling list of text-based messages and a list of online users on the right side of the display.
You can see when a new user has joined and when someone is typing a new message, and communicate as you wish. You can also mute specific channels if you wish to do so.
That said, you don’t need to use dedicated servers if you aren’t interested in them. Like any other chat software, Discord supports basic messaging and friends lists right inside the application. Next to the server list is where you’ll find your list of available friends. Adding a friend to your contacts on Discord can be difficult. To help eliminate spam, you need both your friends’ usernames and a four-digit Discord tag, available at the bottom of the Discord client.
This allows you to send direct messages, though you’ll need to access a server in order to reach out to a group of friends all at once. You can check who is and isn’t online within the application by viewing the small icons in the DM portion of the page, and you can view friend suggestions from the homepage within the app.
As far as basic messaging goes, it works about as well as you could expect. Direct messages are similar to other applications. You can pin specific messages and view them with a toggle, and add friends to a DM if you need to tag additional users within the app.
A call icon is located at the top of the direct message, activating a VoIP call to reach out to your friend right from within the DM display. Also, Discord has slowly begun to roll out video calling to about 10 percent of their users as of writing. We haven’t been able to test the feature yet, but we assume it will add a new icon next to the already-existing call button.
Tools and Features
Discord’s features aren’t quite as standout as Slack’s, built more on the specs and development side of things than the visual and useful in your day to day usage of the app. But the features are nevertheless important, and they’re what make Discord one of our favorite apps to use for nearly lag-free VoIP calls.
Discord builds in features like tags and hashtags into their messaging system in order to make it feel and act more modern than something you’d see with Skype.
You won’t run into any problems while trying to connect either to your friends online through direct messaging or through one of the thousands of servers maintained by Discord.
The app on a desktop supports in-game interfaces, so you won’t have to Alt+Tab out of a game to adjust your call settings or view your messages. You can also set up custom hotkeys within Discord to automatically adjust and control the app within a game or other program.
There is some smaller quality of life improvements as well, such as customizable volume controls for every user—a great idea for that one friend whose microphone is always louder than everyone else’s. Some solid file attachment offerings include; images, videos, and other content you might want to send to your gaming friends.
Overall, the app isn’t quite as feature-packed as some of its competitors, but Discord clearly isn’t trying to be a jack of all trades. It’s trying to be a master of some.
Platforms and Pricing
In terms of pricing, Discord likes to market itself as a 100 percent free communication app in its features list, and indeed, you can use the app fully-featured, for free, sans ads.
Discord’s interface features no intrusive or annoying advertisements built into the app. In fact, the app didn’t ask for payment at all during general use or our testing period, and we never ran into any limitations with using the app for free either.
Discord does, however, have a payment plan: Discord Nitro. Nitro is a $4.99 monthly subscription that helps support Discord’s servers and development that grants you a few bonus features within Discord.
What’s nice about Nitro is that, though the features are neat, it’s nothing you feel is necessary for the app. In many ways, Nitro is simply a perks package for those who feel Discord benefits them in one way or another. Nitro grants you an animated avatar (compatible with any GIF of your choice), custom emoji support in all servers, a larger upload limit (at 50MB per file, up from the original 8MB file cap), and a badge on your profile that shows other users how long you’ve supported Discord through Nitro’s payment plan.
The company also has an FAQ page where they mention having explored optional cosmetic options for sale, including sticker packs and skins for Discord, but as of now, Nitro is the only paid portion of Discord. Finally, that $4.99 fee is charged monthly, not annually, and you can cancel at any time.
Which Should You Use?
This is a tough question, because, in many ways, Slack and Discord fulfill two different niche audiences, albeit with some crossover. Slack mainly focuses on businesses and groups, making their priority the ability to communicate with large teams on both a general and individual level.
Meanwhile, Discord focuses primarily on VoIP calls with low-latency and as small an impact as possible on general CPU usage as possible, allowing gamers to play online games with their friends while maintaining a clear and strong connection.
These two do share some common ground, especially when you consider the power of Discord’s servers, which also feature channel support for communicating with different groups of users. So which should you pick between the two? It all comes down to three different categories: communication, access, and cost.
This is the big one because while Slack and Discord both support text and VoIP communication (Slack has support for video calls whereas Discord does not). Slack focuses primarily on text and instant messaging in all of its forms, while Discord is primarily known for its VoIP service.
The two also focus on two very different audiences, making it a bit like comparing apples to oranges, in some ways. But that doesn’t mean the two aren’t comparable at all, because they do offer plenty of similarities.
Slack features the advantage of channels within each workspace that can be both public and private, making it easy to manage different groups of users on one service.
Discord offers a similar feature through its server capability, with the option to set some channels to “Super Secret.” That said, Slack beats Discord when it comes to private channels; it’s much easier to set up distinct channels on Slack, while Discord requires a server complete with multiple channels.
When it comes to basic direct messages, the two apps are both about as equally powerful. Both send push notifications, support tags for users and topics, and allow for multiple people to jump into conversations.
Both also feature pretty great interfaces; we were overall drawn to the flatter, darker design of Discord, but that isn’t to say what we saw from Slack was a poor showing. Both made it easy to navigate the app and find information, although Slack’s search interface trumps what we’ve seen from Discord any day of the week.
In fact, the ability to plug-in applications to Slack also makes for a fairly powerful computer, makes Slack one of the best chat applications on the market today.
Discord and Slack are both available on almost every platform, and 95 percent of users are going to find either app easy to access on their computer or on the go. Discord is the most widely available, with dedicated apps for Windows and MacOS, mobile apps for Android and iOS, a Linux desktop client, and a web client.
Slack is almost as available, but just barely misses the mark Discord sets. You can access Slack on Windows and MacOS with dedicated desktop applications, on Android and iOS devices with mobile apps, and through the web client. Linux users aren’t completely out of luck, of course, as long as they’re running either a Ubuntu or Fedora-based distro and don’t mind relying on an in-beta product. Even so, the web client for Slack is always available as well, making it available on just about as many platforms as Discord. Oh, and a bonus: Slack still has a Windows Phone 8.1 app available for Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile users. It probably won’t see any future updates, and the app’s still in beta, but it’s there.
Discord more or less mops the floor with Slack in terms of pure price. Nearly everything in Discord is entirely free: server usage, server hosting, VoIP calls to other Discord users, and group VoIP calls are all free and easy to use, without an ad in sight.
The paid plan for Discord, called Nitro, focuses primarily on providing cosmetic changes to your profile as a reward for financially backing the program, with the only non-cosmetic change being a difference in file upload size. There’s no doubt about it: Discord is the better app for those users on a budget, though Slack is certainly usable while on the free plan.
Overall, the choice you make is going to be based on what you need group messaging for. If you’re running a business and need to communicate privately with team members paying for Slack may be more appealing.