Introducing Quackpad – simple collaborative docs for teams using Slack

Every month at USV we have an internal hack day, where we work on various fun tech projects.  We hack on USV.com, we build internal tools, we play with fun new hardware, try out new APIs, etc.  It’s a nice change of pace, and an opportunity to get a little closer to the tech we spend most of the time talking about.

One area we’ve spent some time on recently is building tools for the USV Network.  We have about 60 active portfolio companies, and it’s Brittany‘s job to help them learn from each other as much as possible.  She’s the human router within the portfolio, matching up skills, questions, needs, and experiences.  As part of that, she runs over 50 peer-driven summits ever year across functions (engineering, mobile, people, trust & safety, etc), where members from each company come together to talk shop.

Each summit produces a long list of notes, follow-ups, questions, contact info, etc.  One persistent problem has been making that document accessible, hackable and shareable, both during the summits and afterwards.  Version 1 was a google doc later ported into a Yammer document for archiving.  We recently moved the portfolio network from Yammer to Slack, where we are now approaching 1000 members.  As part of that, we decided to see if we couldn’t hack something together using the Slack API to easily share docs across this large and diverse group.

Last Hack Day, we built a “login with Slack” workflow into USV.com, and created a simple CMS for group-editable documents using Firepad (an excellent open source collaborative document engine built on Firebase).  After doing that, we realized that it would be just as easy to open this up to anyone, regardless of their Slack team, and the result is Quackpad:

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.08.03 AM

It’s very simple: go to Quackpad.io and sign in using your Slack account.  You can create a simple group document that’s immediately shareable with anyone else who is a member of that Slack team (and not to anyone else).

It’s particularly good for Slack teams made up of people from across organizations, who wouldn’t otherwise have an easy way of sharing docs privately (vs., say, a company, where everyone is on gApps).

This is alpha software!  So use at your own risk and let Brittany and me know if you run into any trouble.

Big props to: Michael Lehenbauer from Firebase, the primary author of Firepad, the whole USV team and network for helping build this and test it, and Slack for having a really nice API to work with.

Enjoy!  (and vote it up on Product Hunt!)

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  • Just tried it out. Actually pretty useful. Anything thing that gets me further out of Googles orbit I am all for.

    One small issue, because everything is highlighted, there is no visual indication when I try to highlight a block of text. Unless I turn off highlighting.

    The other thing is, Im not entirely sure what the permission of “quackpad.io can read my slack posts” but that seems unsettling.

    • Thanks!

      The highlighting issue is fixable and I will work on that

      And re permissions yes we actually only need auth (and maybe write) but not read — I will update that so as not to scare anyone else off :-)

    • fixed the perms issue – thanks

      • I actually had to switch it back, because switching it broke the app for a few people. But I will revisit that.

  • Got a blank screen on Chrome / Ubuntu 12.04.

    • yeah I am doing some real time debugging. sorry abt that — a few people hit an error. try going to http://quackpad.io/logout and starting over. If that doesn’t work, just email me your Slack team name at nick at usv dot com and i can fix by hand

  • Awesome! I could totally use this for Orbital!

  • Nick in and using this.. so how do I share this? What do I do once i create a pad?

    • do i copy-paste the url to my team-channel? or is there a subtle share button/link in the UI that i am missing?

    • To share a pad with someone in your slack, simply copy and paste the link
      That person will need to be part of your slack team, and will be prompted to log in w their slack account

      In the future I can add functionality to post links directly into slack but haven’t done that yet

      • +1 for reply karma :)

    • Just added a “share this pad” button to make this clearer

  • Nice work Nick – love seeing these experiments go live to the public. We pretty actively use dropbox notes and github gists for semi permanent collaboration docs. The permissions piece is definitely a nuisance for the multiparty situation with externals.

    On that note. Are the quackpads accessible to only full or also restricted/single-channel users?

    • Cool

      Access depends on your slack team settings and whether you allow only full team members to authorize apps (the default) or whether you allow restricted members (an option)

      Nick

    • Thanks. Right now it’s team-wide but you’re the second person to ask about channel-specific perms. That’s definitely possible but not sure if we’ll get to it in the super near term

  • Are the contents of pads searchable within Slack?

  • Jay Mann

    Hi guys. Brilliant idea. But I’m having issues. Just signed up and created my first note but cannot see it from Slack. Do I need to set anything up at slack?

    • Thanks

      Right now you can share the link directly with anyone in your slack team and they will be able to access it

      This is definitely not clear enough in the UI – several people have brought up the same question and we’lol push an update that makes it clearer

      Can also create some sort of share feature which pushes it directly into the slack channel

      • Jay Mann

        Yes, it’s not the perfect integration but it works. Thanks a lot.
        Just a tiny silly little bug: when you update the pad name, you should also update the browser’s meta title as the tab continues to show ‘untitled’.

    • Yeah, a lot of people have asked about this. I just added a “share this pad” button which should make it clearer. you need to copy and paste the pad URL into the slack channel.

      In the future we could do a deeper integration but for now that’s the simplest way

  • awaldstein

    ‘human router’ –we all need one on a team.

    The fact that you are platforming her is a great accomplishment.

  • Can you share strictly to a group, and not the entire Slack team?

    • not right now — any document is viewable to the whole slack team

      would be possible to do more fine grained permissions, though

  • Nick/Brittany, neat!

    Do you have a place you’d like us to ask questions or send bug reports?

    (I’ll ask one here.) Probably not a bug, but just got a message from Slack about an API token being issued, links to a help site on slack that seems like it’s asking me (you?) to register my app with them…

    • Good idea — I’ll put something up.

      Yeah the way slack works with this stuff is a little odd. They don’t really support a pure “login with slack” the same way twitter/fb/goog do. So it’s more like “authorizing an application” and the account owners get notified every time.

      But it’s improved — when we first started this, the default setting was admins-only, and the slack team changed it. That made this possible.

  • What was the rationale for choosing Firepad instead of straight up Etherpad?

    • I suppose simplicity, and also we just like using firebase and wanted to try firepad

  • Cool hack! How do you see this as different from sharing a Google docs link into slack?

    • the main difference is the permissions — we have this use case where we have a big network on slack, and there’s no way to share a private google doc with everyone (now and in the future).

      this way, as long as you are permissioned into our slack you can see these docs. then in the future, if you leave the slack, or if new people come in, the permissions still work

      • Ahh makes sense! We do this with Google Docs, but we’re a small team. I can see how permission setting thousands of members would be a nightmare. Good work Nick.

        • yep for a small team that already has shared google docs working for them, this is probably not as useful

  • Ding! I finally understand why Slack is cool. Took me a whiiiiiiiiiillllllle.

  • Maybe that’s a company and not a hack. Lots of people are going to want something like that.

  • its valuable post…thank you for nice sharing!
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  • Marco

    Hi Nick! That sounds great. But unfortunately, the link to quackpad is not working anymore. Quackpad is exactly the app which would make slack valuable to my team. Are there any news or is the project already dead? :(

    • Terribly sorry about that — I was offline for a while and didn’t notice that the domain expired.

      Fixing now!

      Nick