Close integration is best

Busybot: A ‘Parasitic’ Task Management Tool For Slack

Because Busybot and Slack look so much alike and are so tightly connected, I avoid the cognitive costs of switching.


I’ve tried using work management tools like Asana in connection with Slack, and the results have been mixed, principally because — I think — there is a mismatch in the basic orientation of the tools: Slack is messaging centered, while Asana is task centered.

In the case of a tool like Asana, when the Slack connection is used notifications are sent to a Slack channel whenever changes occur in the Asana workspace. For example, whenever a task is created, completed, or commented upon. A slash command (‘/asana’) lists tasks, and arguments to the command can lead to creating tasks, assigning tasks, and commenting on them.

Asana integration in Slack

But I confess that I have found this style of integration difficult. The two models of use — chat-based conversation in Slack and task-based coordination in Asana — don’t align for me, and the mapping from an Asana workspace to a Slack channel doesn’t always line up right. And I don’t necessarily want to have every tweak to a task dumped into the channel in Slack, per se. I don’t want that endless stream of noise, because Slack is noisy enough.

I recently encountered a tool that takes a different tack. Busybot avoids the mismatch problem by operating in a parasitic way. By that I mean it relies totally on Slack’s architecture to the greatest extent possible. For example, there is no independent login: you use Slack’s login. And once logged in, the channels of the team that you sign into are duplicated as contexts for tasks in Busybot.

Here’s the login:

login for Busybot

Here’s the #general channel for workfutures.io in Slack. You can see that I /invited busybot to the channel (I had already created the integration).

Inviting and Creating a Task

I typed a message to busybot, ‘ask Esko for a contribution’. If I had added ‘@stoweboyd’ that would have assigned the task to me, as well.

workfutures.io Slack team

Over in Busybot, everything looks extremely similar:

Task in Busybot

On the left, the design of Slack is emulated, so that for each Slack channel there is an equivalent Busybot channel, where all tasks can be found. I’ve selected the ‘ask Esko’ task, and then the task pane opens. I’ve selected the ‘add checklist’ feature.

Task Checklist

I’ve added a single checklist item, but you can have as many as needed. Also descriptions, comments, deadline, and assignment of the task are available as metadata.

The task list can be sorted, which is moot in this case, since there is only one task:

Also note that the ‘@stoweboyd’ option at the top opens all the tasks assigned to me, and ‘all tasks’ opens all tasks in the team, sorted by channel.

Tasks can be added, edited, and deleted in Busybot, but can only be created and displayed in the Slack side of the integration, at present. I’ve been told by Busybot’s CEO and founder, Damian Bramanis, that various new features are coming, like multi-team functionality, new ways to groups tasks in views, and tags.

Conclusions and Takeaway

Busybot works for me despite the minimal degree of metadata, and I think the reason is the equivalence between the Slack and Busybot information models: I don’t have to switch gears mentally when I move from Slack to Busybot, or vice versa. It feels like I am in the same place, just looking at different attributes of the same system of information. Moving from Slack to Busybot feels like I am just zooming in on task details that are suppressed on the Slack side. Because the two ‘sides’ look so much alike and are so tightly connected, I avoid the cognitive switching costs of moving from Slack to non-parasitic tools, like Asana.

Yes, I’d like to be able to do more with Busybot, though. For example, I’d like to be able to change task attributes on the Slack side, like adding a comment to a task, so that the text of the task comment would appear both in the Slack chat history and in the task comment thread. Damian tells me they are working on ways of accomplishing more sophisticated sorts of integration like that, perhaps with a /busybot command, or clever use of the channel topic (setting the topic to the name of a task, for example, so that commands could refer to that task).

At any rate, I will be watching the developments at Busybot with close attention.


Crossposted 1 May 2016 on workfutures.io.

Update 1 May 2016 4:30pm: Several folks mentioned Swipes for Slack, as another approach to accomplish some or all of what Busybot does. I will review in another post.

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