In the team messaging app space, two names dominate: Slack and Atlassian HipChat. Both of these online collaboration services facilitate communication by giving people ways to talk to one another that make sense in the modern world. They let you instant message with individuals or groups in real time or asynchronously. When text alone doesn’t cut it, you can jump on a video call or show your screen to your colleagues. If a teammate needs a file, you can send it by dragging it into your messaging space. Slack and HipChat share all these features, and more, but HipChat’s starting price is a quarter of what Slack charges. Both are PCMag Editors’ Choices, but HipChat is the better option for teams on a budget.
Pricing and Plans
HipChat’s budget friendliness starts with a free option. Free HipChat accounts have no limits on the number of people you can invite to chat or the number of integrations you can create. At the free tier of service, you get group messaging, instant messaging, file sharing capabilities, and the ability to add guests who have restricted access to your team’s account. Search history is capped at 25,000 messages, and the storage ceiling is 5GB. With a free account, you miss out on video calls and screen sharing.
HipChat Plus is the next tier of service, and it includes everything in the free version plus video calls and screen sharing. It costs $2 per user per month. HipChat Plus also includes unlimited storage and messages. You can try it for free for 30 days.
Atlassian also offers a self-hosted version of HipChat called HipChat Data Center. This option is for enterprises that need added security for team messaging. The price depends on the number of users. For example, for a team of only 10 people (which would be unusual, seeing as HipChat Data Center is really for very large organizations), it costs just $10 per year. For a team of 500, Atlassian charges $16,000 per year. For 5,000 people, you can expect to pay $120,000 per year.
For its non-enterprise plans, Slack costs a lot more than HipChat; however, the two services’ free plans are roughly comparable, though HipChat has the edge. With Slack’s free tier of service, you also get unlimited members and plenty of core features, but your account search history is limited to 10,000 messages, rather than 25,000. Storage gets capped at 5GB, which matches HipChat. With Slack Free, however, you can only integrate 10 services, compared with HipChat’s unlimited integrations. HipChat clearly has fewer limitations and offers more at the free level.
Slack’s first tier of paid service, called Slack Standard, costs $8 per person per month, or the equivalent of $6.67 per person per month, when paid annually. The two biggest benefits of Slack Standard over Slack Free are unlimited search history and unlimited integrations. Eight bucks per person per month is a hefty price considering HipChat gives you one of those two things (unlimited integrations) for free. Slack also has an option called Slack Plus, which adds priority support, single sign-on options, and a few other goodies for $15 per user per month. That’s the most expensive per-person team messaging app price I’ve seen.
Several other team messaging apps cost less than Slack but more than HipChat, driving home the point that HipChat offers excellent value. Glip by RingCentral, for instance, costs $5 per person per month for a Basic account and $10 per person per month for Pro. Newcomer to the team messaging space Twist costs just as much as Glip Basic for its Twist Unlimited account, $5 per user per month. Flock charges a little less, at $3 per person per month for its Pro plan. Zoho Cliq is the only other app that costs as little as HipChat, meeting its $2 per person per month price.
Some organizations may find that they don’t have to pay anything at all for a team messaging app because it’s already included in some other service they use. Microsoft Office 365 users, for example, already get Microsoft Teams for no extra charge.
Alternatively, a business social network, such as Workplace by Facebook, has text, audio, and video chat already built into it as well. Pricing for Workplace starts at $3 per active user per month for the first 1,000 people. The per-person price decreases as the number of users increases, after that initial threshold.
Atlassian also offers a more comprehensive collaboration tool called Confluence. Confluence lets teams manage the creation, organization, and discussion of work, but it doesn’t have full-blown project management tools. The price for Confluence varies greatly depending on the number of users. For example, 15 users costs $50 per month, while 50 users costs $200 per month.
Interface and Features
The basic setup of HipChat involves creating different Rooms in which people can have conversations about specific topics on an ongoing basis. Rooms can be for departments, projects, or other themes. You can do just about whatever you want with them. As with any team messaging app or instant messaging app, you can see when other people are signed in and online, and they in turn can set their statuses to indicate their whereabouts.
As a user, you can read discussions, add your two cents, upload files to discuss, use the @ symbol before another user’s name to flag that person, and more.
The interface is simple, if a little boring—it’s not as slick as Slack’s. On the left is a list of Rooms, or spaces to discuss specified topics. Rooms can be open for anyone to join or restricted to invite-only. You might have Rooms for different departments in a business, or for different projects, or both.
Below the Rooms, also at left, are people on your team with colored dots indicating whether they are online and available (green), idle (yellow), or busy (red). As with most chat apps, you can set a custom status like “out to lunch” or “in a meeting.” That’s all standard, but wouldn’t it be nice to get the same at-a-glance information if a colleague is on vacation or taking parental leave? HipChat isn’t so sophisticated as that, but Twist is. When you mark yourself as on holiday, your Twist profile picture switches to a palm tree and beach scene.
The center of a HipChat screen is where the conversation itself takes place. Along the right side are a few icons that, when clicked, show people online (a repeat of the right side, but more easily visible if you have a long list of Rooms), files uploaded to this particular Room, links added to the Room, and a list of Room actions. From the Room actions, an admininstrator can change the Guest Access list, and any Room member can invite others to join.
HipChat also offers screen sharing and video chat, but only for paid accounts. Video chat is a fairly standard feature in team messaging apps, but not all of them have screen sharing or whiteboarding. Flock, Twist, and Microsoft Teams don’t.
When you invite people to join your HipChat account, you have the option to designate them as administrators. Administrators have visibility into all Rooms, even if they aren’t invited to participate in them, and they have other typical admin-level controls, too.
HipChat, like Slack, includes emoji. A shortlist of them pops up when you click a smiley face next to the chat app’s text field, and a whole page of them opens when you select More. On the new page with additional emoji, you can click on any one to copy it to your pasteboard, and below each one is a text command you can type to get it to appear without copy and paste. HipChat lets you upload custom emoji, too.
When used in practice, online team communication tools often capture the sense of humor and levity of your colleagues. So even if emoji (or animated gifs for that matter) are not your thing, you may end up embracing them. Employees and teammates typically want a dedicated Room or space to blow off steam, talk about television, and joke around with one another. HipChat starts off every account with a Watercooler Room for just this reason. It’s useful to know that, in practice, these tools don’t usually house exclusively professional and businesslike conversations. Additionally, a communication tool needs to be part of the company culture to be successful. If employees and team collaborators don’t enjoy using it, they won’t.
As team chat apps mature, some are more adept than others at solving specific problems. For example, a common complaint for teams separated by many time zones is the chaos and confusion of a stream-style messaging system. If Person A posts a question at the beginning of her day and Person B doesn’t see it until she wakes up nine hours later, a whole lot of other talk may have gotten in the way of the initial question, making it difficult for Person B to follow up, or for Person A to follow along.
Twist solves the problem of teams separated by time by creating different threads within a discussion area. The solution looks a whole lot like email, which some people may not like, but you can’t deny it’s more orderly. Slack has attempted a similar solution. Slack’s threads are more like offshoots of primary conversations, however, and are less successful in their implementation than Twist’s are. HipChat doesn’t have any kind of threading.
Another feature missing from HipChat is the ability to set keyword notifications. To my knowledge, Slack is the only chat app with this feature. When you create keyword notifications, you get an alert whenever someone uses those terms in any public Channel, even if you’re not a member of it.
HipChat handles uploaded files with ease, but it’s not so easy to express an idea about an uploaded visual when you can’t draw on it. Glip by RingCentral includes tools to mark up images and PDFs so that you can better explain your comments on files. HipChat doesn’t have this kind of tool.
Apps and Extras
You can use HipChat entirely in your browser, or you can use its many apps instead. HipChat has native apps for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iPhone, iPad, and Android. In a browser, it works with Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 10 or later.
Atlassian makes APIs for HipChat available so that if you have the resources, you can build whatever tools and integrations you need. If you are less savvy at programming, you can always turn to Zapier for other integrations; HipChat is in its network. Zapier is like IFTTT for business tools. IFTTT stands for “if this, then that,” and using that basic formula, you can connect any two tools that are in its network. For example, with Zapier, you can create an integration that says: “If a task is created in Asana, then send a copy of it to HipChat.” You create these commands with very simple tools—no coding experience needed.
A Stellar Value
For its budget-friendly pricing and wonderful ability to work with other business tools, Atlassian HipChat is an Editors’ Choice for team communication. It’s much less expensive than Slack and offers a comparable experience, although Slack—which is also an Editors’ Choice—looks slicker and offers a few features, such as keyword notifications and threads, that HipChat doesn’t have.