Is Aether Pro a good fit for us?

As with most things in life, it depends! Every communication medium has its own preferences, in that it amplifies certain behaviors more than others.

Aether Pro is no different. This document is meant to be a direct, no-marketing description of the choices Aether Pro makes to describe the kind of environment it aims to create. Ultimately, whether this kind of environment is right for your team is a decision you should make yourself.

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We offer a 14-day trial and a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you’d like to see for yourself instead of reading an article about it, please be our guest. 🙂 (You can sign up for a trial here.)
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What’s Aether Pro?

The home page at Aether.app is probably a better (and prettier) explanation, but the elevator pitch is that Aether Pro is a team communication app, similar in purpose to Slack. The major difference is that our app is largely based on asynchronous communication (think email-like), instead of live chat.

If you consider Slack to be a modern version of IRC, Aether Pro would be the modern version of work email groups.

In other words, on top of email groups, Aether Pro adds:

  • @mentions,
  • better inline discussions,
  • image embeds,
  • source code highlighting,
  • automated reporting,
  • bots,
  • external email binding,
  • integrations

and more. That is what we mean by a modern version.

Type of person, or:

Aether Pro works well for knowledge workers

We are engineers and designers with past experience working in technology industry here in Silicon Valley. Our collective experience spans companies such as Google and Facebook. Aether Pro is created to solve the problems we’ve had in these companies, but is also applicable to smaller groups of people.

This means we’re solving our own problems. It might work well for other groups of people, but we don’t know that yet! What we do know is if you’re an engineer, a PM or a designer, this is way more productive and happier at work than getting harassed by your group instant messenger, (Slack, etc.) because it will render you ultimately in control of your interruptions.

In short, if you’re a knowledge worker, and your work needs consistent, applied focus, it’s worth giving this a shot. A team of knowledge workers whose primary method of communication is Aether Pro is much more productive than a team with a group chat app that requires people to communicate over live chat, simply because the former team gets interrupted while in deep thought a lot fewer times in the same day than the latter.

If this keeps happening to you, we might be able to help.

On the the other hand, if your team is largely manual process workers where not much thinking nor focus is required, or they are people you have to be able to interrupt for small things, a group instant messenger might work better for you.

TEAM SIZE, OR:

Aether Pro works well above the noise threshold

While it works well at any size (the writer uses it as their own personal note-taking software with annotations, in a team of one), Aether Pro really shines in organizations that have crossed the noise threshold.

Example
Your team lead starts an impromptu discussion over the architecture with the devops lead and pulls in the designer, and some folks from your 12-person engineering team joins the conversation that’s been going on for 25 minutes. What do you do?
Option 1 (best)
Your best shot at making the best of this is to be there while this discussion is happening. This is a low chance, though, since you are likely doing your actual job, focused on the task at hand, not on the chat app.
Option 2
The next best option is that you have this conversation muted, and then you have to figure out what happened in a flat, raw text feed in time order, and try to get the context by ‘replaying’ the conversation in your head.
Option 3 (worst)
You get repeatedly pinged by this conversation while it is happening, while you’re trying to fix a bug, design a UI, or have a meeting. You try to keep an eye on the discussion, and another on what you should actually be doing, and neither ends up being productive.

The noise threshold is simply where you encounter issues like this on a semi-regular basis. The noise threshold depends on how judiciously your team uses your communication tool of choice, however an educated guess is about 5 people.

Below this threshold, in a group chat, largely anything can be said, and catching up with the feed of responses is usually confined to under ten minutes for every hour of content. It’s still pretty distracting, but it can be managed by the effort on the user’s side. In other words, you can mute the channel and check it occasionally, and you’d mostly be okay.

Above, things start to go awry. You get a lot of notifications, most of which are non-important, but some very much so, and you don’t know which is which immediately. Some people abuse @all and they have to be politely told it’s not a good idea. You start keeping your IM on busy all the time, but it seems to have no effect, after a while people just start to treat your busy as online. You start to keep the app closed, or keep it at offline, but then you worry that people will think you’re not working.

Real world example for the "above" case.

Most importantly, every time you’ve just gotten going, somebody pings you, and asks about whether you have the link to the latest ticket, the product proposal, or the latest mocks. Since the deadline is still two days away, this question is a little ahead of its time, but it had to be asked, anyway, just in case.

You don’t need x = a x = b f ( x ) d x to know you could get a lot more done


The better the chat hygiene in your team, the more you can delay the onset of this. In the end, however, since the attention of your team is a fixed, finite commodity, it is a zero sum game, and the more people you have, the more often this will start to happen.

Does it sometimes feel like a losing battle? Crosstalk makes it hard to have productive IM channels beyond a low single digit number of simultaneous users

As a result, if stealing focus from people for your own benefit is as easy as just typing @all: into a team chat, given a large enough team, somebody will be doing just that pretty much constantly for their own purposes, regardless of how judicious you are with enforcing your chat rules.


Aether Pro is much more resistant to this kind of productivity-sapping chaos for three main reasons:

  • Conversations on Aether Pro tend to be like Reddit threads: they are longer than single line chat messages, they can be nested multiple levels and a thread can have multiple things being discussed within while it still keeps making sense — and they continue to make sense far better than a chat log long after the conversation has transpired.
Something like this not only makes more sense now and in two weeks, it also scales to an arbitrary number of simultaneous users
  • It is not live chat: there is no expectation of an immediate response, thus no direct dopamine hit. Prodding other people is a much less attractive proposition unless one actually needs it.

  • Since it raises much fewer notifications, and batches them, you don’t get notification spam.

Summary

Teamwork apps that are based on live chat are optimized for teams who don’t lose much from interruption, and don’t need much focus, and its tradeoffs are designed to emphasize more communication over deep communication.

This often creates the illusion of doing something while the actual output is negative: doing nothing, plus preventing others from doing their work.

Aether makes different tradeoffs that are more suitable for people who need more uninterrupted focus. We are our own target audience, and we use it ourselves to work on Aether Pro.

If you have more than ~5 people in any channel, Aether Pro can be a much less noisy, more collaborative, and more respectful way to work together compared to live chat based teamwork apps.

HOW TO GET STARTED, OR:

Common ways of integrating Aether Pro into a team

If you already use a team chat app

The most common way to move in this case is to continue using the team chat app, but drop their subscription to the free plan, and keep using it for ‘watercooler’ kind of chat.

Since these apps usually offer a free plan with very limited history, the fact that it has essentially no history diverts the more meaningful work discussions into Aether on its own. This also makes it so that your work discussions are now much better documented and searchable.

This creates a natural separation between the real work channels on Aether Pro, which is structured for deeper conversation, and the non-recorded chat on, for example, Slack.

If you’re not using a team chat app, only email

In this case, you can largely treat Aether Pro as your replacement for the mailing list: it will act similarly but with much more modern features. If you like team chat apps’ modern features, but you think they’re too distracting, or you don’t think live chat is a good way of communication, Aether might work very well for you.

If you’d like to talk to us on how to get your team on Aether Pro, you can book a call with our founder over video chat, or if you’re in San Francisco Bay Area, in person. We’d love to talk about your specific situation and how we can support you best.

What’s upcoming, or:

Vote for our features

Aether is very useful to us in taming the chaos today (we might be *slightly* biased) across our remote start-up team. That said, we know that there are always more features that will make Aether Pro as productive, respectful and comfortable as possible to people like ourselves. You can contribute to our decision making on which features to implement in our Trello below, and vote on the features.

Aether Pro Roadmap

<plug> If you want to give Aether Pro a shot, sign up here. </plug>

Cheers,
The Aether Pro Team