Channel vs Chat Smackdown

During one of those long, philosophical conversations with a colleague, we were discussing governance/guidance around the usage of channels vs chats.  That spawned a few other conversations Here’s what we came up with:

First, chats will store documents in the OneDrive for Business of the person sharing the file. Channels will store documents in the SharePoint library for the Team/channel. That could be impactful if you are applying different retention policies on the Team/channel.

One very adamant opinion was that if there is a Team that the post could possibly belong to, it should be posted there so it can be seen by other Team members, whether or not it’s felt that this is something they “need” to see. This was described as “working out loud” in another discussion on private channels.

To the contrary, others felt that only very specific “final” content should be posted to a channel conversation, and that “drafts” or “side discussions” should take place in chats.

A rule of thumb that one person uses, is that if the conversation is private or can be “easily forgotten” about by the organization without any impact, then a chat is fine.

In a discussion, someone felt that chats were useful to make sure that someone responded to an item, and that things would get lost in a channel. While this could happen, it was pointed out that use of @mentions should work to prevent the conversation from getting lost. Others contributed that there were still some misgivings or reluctance to @mention people in Teams (or even Outlook). Finally, it was mentioned that threads in channels provide for a much more scalable multi-conversation experience than multiple chats.

Another person commented that a chat might be used if you think the person you are contacting has the answer to a question, which a channel would be for a multi-person “help me! Who knows XYZ”.

Finally, one person compared the difference to Facebook wall posts vs a Messenger chat.


Private Channel Use Cases

I love the concept of private channels. Working with Microsoft partners to deploy Teams solutions for customers, it’s a natural fit to have a Team per customer and then project based channels underneath that. Key staff from the customer are usually added as guests. With the release of private channels a few months ago, we can now have an “Internal Only” channel for discussions and drafts. Previously, we’d have to set up a second Team to achieve this same security boundary.

I was curious about what other organizations were using private channels for now that we’re a few months in. I posted on a social media, asked around at user groups, and here’s what I found:

For events, private channels can be used for speakers, or groups of speakers. Organizers or staff with different roles might have their own private channels. Overall though, Team members were able to access non-sensitive areas to promote “working out loud”, which serves as a sort of replacement for hallway conversations.

A managed services organization uses a Team per customer approach, with channels to organize various aspects of services for the customer. A private channel is used for internal conversations and planning.

Another use was to allow guests – from various partners or sub-contractors to interact with the main organization, or possibly each other, without needing to create numerous Teams. This approach does require that nearly every channel would be private, since there is no way to invite guests to just a channel.

Some organizations don’t feel that private channels are ready yet, and disable them. Reasons were around information protection and the ability to properly control their intellectual property. Others had concerns over “SharePoint Sprawl”, as each private channel gets its own site collection. Along these sames lines, one organization did like the lack of ability to “privatize” and “publicize” channels – they felt the lock-in once the channel was created could cause pain down the road if they made the wrong choice.

Others noted that some features, like Planner, are O365 group based and aren’t supported in private channels. Private channels (and “vanilla” channels) don’t have O365 groups, while the Team is O365 group based.

I think it’s fair to say that private channels are useful for many who need an administrative way to separate things. It’s likely also fair to say that private channels currently fall short of what other organizations need in terms of governance and compliance.