After reports that Microsoft decided against pursuing an acquisition of the chat and collaboration platform Slack, it looks like Redmond is stepping up efforts to match the startup’s combination of communications features and third-party integrations.
Office 365 Connectors provides a running feed of content and functionality from various apps and services. So far, participating partners include Twitter, Trello, Wunderlist, GitHub, Salesforce, Visual Studio Team Services, Zendesk, and many others. The RSS news standard is supported as well.
The new Connectors service works as part of the Groups feature in Outlook 2016 and Outlook on the web. Office 365 Groups allows employees to form project-specific teams around a shared inbox, calendar, notebook, files, and now Connectors.
These third-party Connectors add one more collaboration point for teams, providing interactive notifications, updates and content directly from the outside services that a given team relies on. Similar to Slack, Microsoft seems intent on building out a single workspace in which a team can collaborate on a project by pulling together internal and external resources alike.
While Slack was a response to email overload, the more important problem the company addresses is the disconnection of email from any particular workspace; Slack helps to contextualize team projects by using dedicated project "channels."
With Office 365 Groups, and now Connectors, Microsoft appears to be closing the gap with the upstart; however, Microsoft still relies on the longer format of email as the communications medium, whereas Slack chooses short-form chat that provides, and expects, more immediate responses and availability among its participants. It's a design choice that's experiencing some pushback among the Slack faithful.
Office 365 Connectors will roll out to general availability shortly according to Microsoft. The feature is currently available for First Release customers though Outlook 2016 and Outlook on the web; mobile apps on Windows, iOS and Android support Groups today and will soon support Connectors. Only customers who use Office 365 for work or school are eligible to use Groups and Connectors.
For developers who wish to be part of the growing list of supported apps and services, Channel 9 posted a video last November detailing Connectors and how to develop for the service.