A Slack app to explore, create and curate your workspace's business terminology

bot, flask-application, flask-sqlalchemy, slack, slack-api, slack-app
pip install whatis-bot==1.0.4



Introducing the Whatis bot - Whatis lets your organisation explore, curate and create business Terminology right from Slack!

Actions Status

A managed version of the Whatis bot can now be installed straight from the Slack App directory or from https://whatis.rocks/

Creating Terminology

Create new Business terminology straight from Slack with Slack Dialogs - type /whatis create into any conversation or click the Add new whatis button to add a new Whatis through a Slack dialog.

Users adding new terminology are tagged in the Added by field

Curating Terminology

By default, all users in your Slack workspace are able to Delete, Create, Update or rollback terminolgy - whatis allows you to specify "Terminology Admins" by indicating Admin Slack user IDs or Slack Channels to get Admin users from (Note: if you are using Admin Channels you must make sure your whatis bot is invited!)

Whatises always have a 'version' associated with them - this is incremented each time a whatis is updated and decremented when it is rolled back.

Exploring Terminology

Whatis lets you explore your Company's terminology easily with the Slash command /Whatis <Terminology> e.g. /whatis ebitda. Whatis searching works differently depending on your deployment's database configuration


If you are using a Postgres-backed Whatis bot (Strongly recommended for Production deployments) then Whatis can make use of fuzzy string matching with the fuzzystrmatch Postgres extension (Levenshtein distance).


Sqlite-backed Whatis instances can only use substring-type matching ilike '%lost%


Installing the Whatis bot server is as simple as running pip install whatis-bot you are probably looking to add this as a bot in your Slack workspace though!

The Whatis bot server can be installed locally from this repo with pip install -e .

Running whatis

Whatis can be run locally using the command whatis-serve --db $DB_URL

Setting up a whatis bot on your workspace

  • Create a new bot
  • Set the bot name to be /whatis
  • Grant the scopes to read conversation members
  • Make a note of your bot's slack signing secret and bot token
  • Set a bot icon! You can find one already made to size in the doc_images directory here.

Running whatis bot locally - tunneling to Slack

If you are running the Whatis bot locally you need to allow the bot to 'reach' Slack. The recommended way of doing this is via a tunneling program such as ngrok which allows you to setup a tunnel to a port on your localhost. Start your tunnel and point the Slack slash commands URL to <your_tunnel_url>/slack and the actions url to <your_tunnel_url>/slack/actions.

Environment variables

  • ADMIN_USER_IDS - This variable sets individual admin Slack user IDs
  • ADMIN_CHANNEL_IDS - This variable sets the channels where members are considered to be Terminology admins
  • SQLALCHEMY_DATABASE_URL - This variable sets the database the Whatis bot will use {Sqlite, Postgres}

Database setup

Whatis can run using Sqlite or Postgres database backends - it is strongly recommended that you use a Postgres backend in your production environment as this has the following benefits:

  • fuzzystrmatch based terminology searching based on Levenshtein distance
  • Thread safety

Adding existing terminology

If you have an existing company repository of terminology e.g. a shared GSheet you can migrate this over to whatis. Whatis accepts a --preload-filepath start argument. You can pass the path to a json records file containing your companies existing terminology to trigger a one-time load of this terminology the first time Whatis starts up, Whatis keeps track of the terminology it has already loaded so no need to worry about duplicates from the same file.

Note: Editing a past records file will cause Whatis to load its contents again!

Example terminology json records


{"terminology": "FBI", "definition":"The Federal Bureau of intelligence"},
{"terminology": "CSR", "definition":"Corporate social responsibility", "notes":"This is something we do by planting a tree every 6000 flights"},
{"terminology": "Lost customer", "definition":"A customer who has not requested new shoes in > 3 days", "links":"https://jira.com/issues/DE455"},

To load these records into whatis when it first starts:

whatis --preload-filepath /path/to/_load_20190929.json

Subsequent runs of the whatis bot will ignore the same preload file!

Running tests

pytest tests/ - you may need to install pytest first depending on your Python distribution

What is planned for future Whatis releases

  • Support for background tasks with Celery:
    • Letting previous terminology editors know when someone else edits their whatis
    • Allowing an action where the Whatis bot sends a CSV file of all company terminology to a user ("See all" button)
    • Support for multiple apps to use the same Whatis bot instace (verification for multiple signed secrets)


Open up a pull request

Companies using /Whatis!