All posts by 359268hh

An alternative to e-mail to improve business productivity

Do we wast too much time on e-mail? Slack can be a solution

Nowadays, a variety of “communication media” on the market pretend to make us more productive. Instead, communication media like Facebook, Twitter, and last but not least e-mail, lead to a productivity-killing communication overload with all its consequences (1).

Research undertaken by McKinsey showed that high-skilled knowledge workers spend on average 28% of their time on managing e-mail. Another 14% of their workweek is spent on ‘communicating and collaborating internally’ (2). Furthermore, research by Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the university of California, showed that office workers are interrupted approximately every three minutes, where it can take more than 20 minutes before one returns to the original task (3). It goes without saying that increasing the productivity of social technologies, can result in considerable time savings and thus value.

In mid-2013, Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield launched a new workplace and collaboration tool called Slack (4). Not coincidentally, Butterfield and his colleagues intended to eliminate the necessity of e-mail as primary communication tool within organization. Slack offers a SaaS-based communication platform that enables employees to communicate through private groups, as well as chat rooms organized by topics and direct messaging (5). The content in the tool is archived (including e.g. Google Drive and Dropbox integrations) and can easily be accessed through several devices and operating systems. Slack for instance provides applications for Mac, iOS, Android and Windows.

All this sounds promising, but does Slack work? If we solely look at the market, one would be inclined to say yes. Shortly after the launch of the start-up, Slack entered the unicorn club – a select group of start-ups that soared to a $1 billion-plus valuation (5). Moreover, last week Slack confirmed that another round of funding raised $160 million, leading to a total valuation of $2.8 billion.

With its 750.000 daily users and customers including renowned companies like The New York Times, Adobe, HBO, PayPal, and the US State Department, Slack seems to work indeed. In contrary to communication media like e-mail, Slack’s technology appears to better fit employees’ tasks resulting in a better task–technology fit – “the degree to which a technology assists an individual in his or her portfolio of tasks” (Goodhue & Thompson, 1995, p. 216) (6).

Perhaps you might get a little too rosy picture of Slack. Of course the $2.8 billion valued startup looks very promising. Market insiders however expect that such a high valuation is not sustainable in the long run, simply because the fact that there are several other high-quality startups providing business collaboration software as well (e.g. HipChat, Yammer) (5).

Even though Slack might not become a big monopolist in the business communication/collaboration-tool market, an overall trend in which companies try to tackle unproductive communication overload, can be seen. One thing is for sure, by reconsidering communication and embracing collaboration tools like Slack, companies can save themselves a lot of time and money.

  6. Goodhue, D. L., & Thompson, R. L. (1995). Task–technology fit and individual performance. MIS Quarterly, 19, 213–236.
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Exploring Paris the Dutch way

Lately, I made a four-day trip to Paris with the intention to explore this beautiful city and the many highlights it offers. As you may know, it is a terrible job to explore the city by car. The traffic is busy, the stereotype Parisian drives like a retard, and moreover parking spaces are scarce and pretty expensive (1).

The public transport on the other hand, is a wise alternative for tourists. With its 14 metro lines, 8 RER lines, and more than 50 bus lines (2), Paris has a renown public transport system (3). A day ticket for zone one and two (covering the whole city centre) will cost you 7 euros and allows you to make use of all three transportation facilities.

Knowing these facts, I decided to stall my car at the hotel’s parking lot and make use of the public transport.

On the first day of my stay, I swiftly noticed an abundance of grey bikes throughout the city. As a bicycle loving Dutchman, I was curious about the ins and outs of these funnily looking bikes called Vélib’ (Velo Libre, ‘free bike’) and subsequently obtained information at the tourist office.

The Vélib’ is a self-service bike rental initiative by the municipality of Paris, launched in 2007 (4). More than 20.000 bikes are scattered throughout the city, distributed over approximately 1500 different bike stations (5). To access this service, customers can buy a 1-day (€1.70) or 7-day (€8) subscription at any of the stations through a terminal or via the web (4). With this subscription you are allowed to pick up and return bikes at all Vélib’ stations throughout Paris (see figure 1).


Figure 1 – Vélib’ stations (purple dots)

Is it that simple and cheap? Yes and no. Firstly, €150 has to be paid as bail (all transactions are by credit card and the bail is immediately returned afterwards) before the service can be accessed so that people actually return the bicycles (institutional arrangement). Furthermore, the first 30 minutes of each trip are free. After that, the usage is subjected to exponentially rising costs (see figure 2) to prevent people from occupying the same bike for a long period of time (6).

Schermafbeelding 2015-04-17 om 15.41.58

Figure 2 – tariffs 

Besides their predilection for bikes, Dutch people are known for their parsimony and so was I. Knowing that the first 30 minutes of a bike ride are free, I always made sure I returned or swapped my bike in time. For me, this was not a problem at all since Vélib’ stations are nearly at every corner of a street and I like to alternate the bikerides with walking and/or sightseeing.

In my opinion, the Vélib’ initiative is an easy and cheap way to explore the city of Paris and moreover cities in general. I had a great day making use of a dozen of bicycles and it took me only €1.70. Travelling by bike prevents you from getting exhausted of walking distances that are a little too long. Besides, you see a lot more of the city as opposed to traveling by (underground) public transport.

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  9. Figure 2:élib’

Aren’t we free-riders after all?

Nowadays, many online public goods rely on the input of the users. In fact, co-created open source software communities (e.g. Linux, Firefox, and Apache), content sharing networks (e.g. YouTube, Instagram), and open content productions like Wikipedia entirely rely on voluntary user contributions (Zhang & Zhu, 2011).

The group size of a particular community plays an important role in the incentives of users to contribute. For years, the free-rider hypothesis has been the dominant focus in the literature on private provision of public goods. This theory implies that when the size of a group grows, the contribution level of individuals declines (Olsen, 1965). However, over the years, researchers have renounced this pure altruism based view. It appeared that there was more than just the utility from total provisions of the public good that affected contribution incentives in public goods.

The importance of impure altruism made its appearance. Multiple studies (e.g. Ribar & Wilhelm, 2002; Andreoni, 2006) disproved the free-rider hypothesis that solely takes pure altruism into account. For instance, they showed that when the group size becomes sufficiently large, the importance of pure altruism disappears and on the other hand social benefits become the main motive for users to contribute.

Unlike the many experimental based studies on the effect of group size on individual-level contributions, Zhang and Zhu (2011) used field data in the form of the Chinese-language edition of Wikipedia to study the relationship.

Between October 2002 (the start of the Chinese version of the site) – July 2008, the website has been blocked and unblocked 5 times (see figure 1). In these blocked periods, people from mainland China could not access Wikipedia and thus not contribute to the site.

Zhang and Zhu (2011) focused their empirical analysis on the third block since it was the longest of the five blocks (nearly a year) and it received most publicity. This last mentioned point took away the concern that individuals were unaware of changes in the environment, something that impacts contribution levels.

By examining contribution levels of users, the researchers found out that the contribution levels of non-blocked users had significantly reduced (42.8% on average) during the block. Contributors who value social benefits more, reacted more strongly on the change by contributing even less in the blocked period. The idea behind this decline is that contributors receive social benefits when they contribute to the public good. The shrunken group size subsequently reduced these benefits.

Overall, the theoretical contribution of this research is the on field data based support that, in a setting with a large group size, social benefits indeed dominate the free-riding incentives. This outcome provides an explanation of the existence of many public goods with a large base of contributors. Furthermore, this paper helps to explain the observation that people prefer contributing to large online communities.

This outcome can be of practical relevance for users and administrators of other public goods available on the internet, since it emphasizes the importance of social effects in the provision of (online) public goods.


Andreoni, J. (2006) “Philanthropy,” in Serge-Christophe Kolm and Jean Mercier Ythier, eds., Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity: Applications, Vol. 2, North Holland, 2006, chapter 18.

Olson, M. (1965). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of group (p. 176). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ribar, D. C., & Wilhelm, M. O. (2002). Altruistic and joy‐of‐giving motivations in charitable behavior. Journal of Political Economy, 110(2), 425-457.

Zhang, M. and Zhu, F. 2011. Group Size and Incentives to Contribute: A Natural Experiment at Chinese WikipediaAmerican Economic Review 101(4) 1601-1615.

Photo:, accessed 03-04-2015,