How Slack’s New Search Came to Be: An Epic Tale of Cunning, Passion, and Computer Stuff

This is the story of Slack’s new search. It’s not a “How to use the new search” — that’s here. This is more of a tale. A quest, if you like:…

assisted search

This is the story of Slack’s new search. It’s not a “How to use the new search” — that’s here. This is more of a tale. A quest, if you like: Full of intrigue, excitement, front-end engineering and a dash of derring-do.

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin.

search terms


The Power of Search had always existed. It had existed as long as Slack had existed. But just how powerful it was had become buried in the mists of time, until only a few people knew how to harness it.

It was almost too powerful. The engineers had created it so. Messages, imported files, metadata, code snippets and posts: Everything was carefully archived and ready to be found. But only you knew the right combination of words to summon it. History called them: The Modifiers.

The more your team grew on Slack, the more archives you built up, and the more you talked about the same projects, the harder it could be to find the thing you were looking for.

The search was powerful enough to find anything that was able to be found, everyone knew that. But how could the power of search be harnessed? That was a different question altogether. And one that was answered almost by accident.

search modifier


The team who ended up on the quest were initially on a different path. What it was they were doing is not important (except to say it’s still being worked on, and is very good). But while working on that, they realized that the same methods they were using in this other technological wizardry could all be applied to taming the power of search.

“We simply needed to add the fancy interaction part on top of the technology that already existed.” Says Diogenes Brito, the one they call “Product Designer”. “From that perspective it was easy.”

What came next, however, would be far from easy.


Fine: What came next wasn’t that far from easy, but it was a lot of work. A lot of conversation, prototyping, designing, redesigning and refining.

People search in different ways, or use search for different, specific functions, and almost every one of those people think the way that they search is correct. Which is incorrect. Because everyone is correct.

So there was a lot of talking to people about what they looked for, and how happy they were with what they found; about the different combinations of words people tried, expectations and frustrations of searches people had. All to make sure the new modifiers weren’t awkardly forcing people to learn a whole new way of searching their Slack archive, but buffing up the way their brilliant brains already behaved.

“At a high level it’s just there to make things faster, to help get a search done.” says Dio. “But it also helps you learn how to search deeper, as you perform the search.”


So the way was clear. A strong team with a single heart perfecting how anyone, anywhere could unleash the power of the search with the assistance of modifiers: intelligent ones that you could choose with couple of keystrokes or a click of the mouse once you started typing.

Meanwhile, across Slack, a separate, disparate raggle-taggle group were hard at work in their channel, building out the search extracts that would complete the experience.

If the modifiers were there to hone in on the thing you wanted, the search extracts ensure that the results scream out “Yes! this is the one you were thinking of! It’s Here!”

“Search extracts hide all but a line or two of context around the matching message, which hopefully makes it easier to scan for exactly what you are looking for.” Explains Patrick Kane, Lvl.87 Front-End Developer “Sometimes what you’re looking for is in that context, and it’s still just a click away.”

search results

CHAPTER FIVE: The end is the beginning

So, thanks to the those who chose the varied paths of software design and development, we have the means to delve into our archives with confidence: Assisted Search.

Anyone using it feels like a power user — not only of search, but of Slack itself. It turns out that the real power of the search was unleashing within the searcher the realization that the power lay within themselves all along.

Well, themselves AND search. And the lightning-fast, infinitely shardable, highly optimized indexing and retrieval infrastructure. That’s very powerful. Also: the rest of Slack. But that’s not the point right now.

The point is: they all lived happily ever after.


(And again: the very good help article is here if you’re actually looking for tips on using it rather than the epic tale behind it.)

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.