Filtering Chats More Useful Than Filtering Teams/Channels
The sense that the Teams development group is learning from their own use of their product is growing all the time. Although seemingly always goodness when developers learn from shortcomings in their products, it can also be a double-edged sword when a product evolves to meet the needs of the company that builds it instead of its customers.
In the case of Teams, features like pinned channels and being able to mute notifications for busy conversations benefit everyone, including the Teams developers. The new filtering capabilities (announced in the What’s New in Microsoft Teams September 2019 post) are firmly in this category too, even if its availability wasn’t announced in an Office 365 notification or documented as a roadmap item.
The Problem with Chats
Teams chats are an excellent way to communicate with individuals (1:1 chats) or small groups (up to one hundred participants). Tenant users and guests can participate in chats, which are less structured than channel conversations because the chat flows in a continuous stream (much like human conversation) instead of being divided into topics. But the problem with chats is that you can have too many of them and end up losing sight of an important point. The Teams search function isn’t particularly good at precision interrogation, and Microsoft might have introduced the Filter feature as a short-term fix to the problem while they sort search out.
Filters are available to find chats or teams and channels. In the desktop or browser client, select either Teams or Chat and click the filter icon (Figure 1) and input a keyword. In the case of Teams, you input part of the name of a team or channel. The Teams filter is no more than a convenient way of finding a team or channel in what might be a long list of teams and channels that someone interacts with (remember, each team can have up to 200 different channels). Once you’ve found that important channel, consider pinning it so that you don’t have to look for it again.
For personal chats, you input part of the name of someone you’ve had a conversation with. For example, I can find conversations with Kim Akers by inputting “Kim” or “Akers” or even “ak.” Once you’ve found an initial set of matches, you can refine the set by clicking … to expose some additional filtering options (Figure 2). These options don’t exist when you apply a filter to channel conversations, probably because these conversations are already organized into teams and channels.
Overall, filters are a welcome tweak of the Teams user interface. In particular, the chat filter will help busy people find the chat they want more quickly than before. However, a better long-term solution would be to make Teams search work with the precision it should have. It took Outlook many false starts and almost twenty years of effort to deliver reliable and powerful search for user mailboxes. Let’s hope that Teams shortcuts the process.
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