WhatsApp launches ‘Communities’ – more structured group chat with admin controls – TechCrunch

Meta is throwing billions of dollars into building the meta-verse as the future of social networking, but in the short term, the technology giant is looking to the power of messages to connect users in a more personal way. On that front, the company today introduced its plans for a major update to its WhatsApp messaging app, which will allow users to now not only connect privately with friends and family, as before, but also participate in larger discussion groups, called Communities. These groups aim to serve as a more feature-rich replacement for people’s larger group chats with added support for tools like file sharing, 32-person group calling, and emoji responses, as well as management tools and moderation controls, among others.

The feature has been under development for some time as the next major iteration for the WhatsApp platform, designed to take advantage of the app’s existing end-to-end encryption as well as users’ growing desire to participate in private communities outside of major social platforms, such as .ex. Facebook.

In particular, communities may pose a challenge to other messaging apps such as Telegram – which has recently become a prominent player in the Russia-Ukraine war-related communications – in addition to other private messaging platforms such as iMessage or Signal, as well as apps such as GroupMe, Band, Remind and others used to communicate with groups.

“It’s been clear for a while that the way we communicate online is changing,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, announcing the news in a post on his public Facebook profile. “Most of us use social networks and feeds to discover interesting content and stay up to date. But for a deeper level of interaction, messaging has become the center of our digital life. It’s more intimate and private, and with encryption it’s more for sure, ”he added.

Image credit: WhatsApp communities features

The feature may initially lead to some comparisons with Facebook Groups, a more private networking tool on Facebook that now reaches 1.8 billion users on a monthly basis, according to Facebook’s latest public data. Like groups, WhatsApp communities would allow organizations, clubs, or schools to network so that their members can interact and share news and updates. And just like Facebook groups recently added, communities also support the ability to host subgroups.

For example, a voluntary organization may create a subgroup discussion for those involved in a particular project, such as a food drive. A parent group could host subgroups based on the age of their children. A school may include subgroups for different grade levels or leisure activities. A club could host subgroups dedicated to planning their various events and activities. Etc.

But while Facebook groups may see some overlap with WhatsApp communities, the two are not designed for the same purpose. Facebook’s product is often used by larger, otherwise disconnected strangers who share a common interest. WhatsApp communities, meanwhile, focus on more private and personal groups – including those where members may already be connected in other ways, including in the real world.

Explains WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart about the difference, “we are phone number based.”

“When you interact with people on WhatsApp, there is a necessary comfort in exchanging your phone number with them. So it points to communities where you know these people in real life,” he says. “Maybe you do not have all the phone numbers to all parents in your child’s class, but you are comfortable interacting with them that way. “

Image credit: WhatsApp communities response feature

In Communities, users will also be able to see the phone numbers of the others participating in the subgroups with them, or when interacting with each other one-on-one. This makes the product feel more personal than anything like Facebook groups.

Another important difference between communities and Facebook groups is that the latter include groups that are public or can be found on the platform. WhatsApp communities are none of them. The company says it will not allow users to search for or discover communities on its service. You must be invited to the groups to join them.

To get started with communities, administrators will be able to link an existing group chat to the new feature or create a new group from scratch. WhatsApp believes that there are already a large number of group chats that will easily make the transition to the more structured communities when the feature launches.

“We do not have an exact number, but when talking to people in many of the countries where WhatsApp is popular, it’s really common that people at the moment are not just using WhatsApp to talk to their family or their family. , ”Says Cathcart.“ They use it to talk to their boss and colleagues. They use it if they have children in schools. ”

“What we are doing now is starting to build for organizational use with intent,” he says.

Admin tools come to messages

To expand their groups, administrators can add members to groups individually, or they can share an invitation link. For clubs and other groups where members come and go, administrators have the power to remove individual members from a community as needed.

In addition, only administrators will have the power to share messages to all members of the community through the main message group (as it is called), which will initially support “several thousand” of users. Community members can only chat in the smaller groups created or approved by the administrators.

WhatsApp will also restrict transmissions – a way of sending messages that often leads to the spread of misinformation and spam. In communities, messages that have already been forwarded can only be forwarded to one group at a time instead of the current forwarding limit of five.

This, along with subgroups, could solve the problem of congestion that occurs today in many group chats where important information is missed in the middle of the conversation and irrelevant content.

Image credit: Voice calls of WhatsApp communities

Communities also bring other group management tools to notifications, including the ability for group administrators to moderate content. Administrators will be able to remove inaccurate or problematic messages or media from everyone’s chat. They will also be able to share files up to 2 GB to help groups collaborate and share information. And Communities will be able to host voice calls with up to 32 people for those times when it’s easier to talk live instead of text, the company says.

Users will also have control over being added to communities. In WhatsApp settings, users can already decide who can add them to a group chat; now the same settings will also apply to communities. Users can report abuse, block accounts, and leave communities when they no longer want to participate. In Communities, users can quietly leave a group that does not notify the other users as in traditional WhatsApp chats.

While WhatsApp is promoting its end-to-end encryption as another reason to use the new talk feature, the company still has to overcome users’ hesitation due to issues with its recent attempts to update its privacy policies. The company faced setbacks over its difficult-to-understand policy update last year, which is still being investigated by some markets’ anti-competitive authorities and regulatory bodies, including in the EU and India.

Cathcart says after WhatsApp added more clarity to its policy, a “big, overwhelming percentage of that user basis “ accepted that update. Anyone who refused is just not able to use the new functionality related to companies. Communities, he notes, will not require a new policy update at this time.

“This fits in very closely with what we’ve done before. And from a data perspective, this is all end-to-end encrypted on the communication – [it] seems very similar to how groups have worked, ”he says.

The new feature is not live today. It will initially be launched in a limited test with selected communities to get further feedback prior to a public rollout. WhatsApp has not said when the feature will reach the general public, but notes that some of the Communities’ new functionality – such as responses, file sharing and 32-person calls – will roll out faster.

Leave a Comment