One thing was clear coming out of SXSW--group messaging with platforms like Beluga, GroupMe, Kik and Fast Society is here, and it's likely here to stay. Yes, it has some growing to do just like any new online behavior (e.g., tweeting, checking in, etc.), but it left a big impression.
With funding and the support of influential thought leaders, group messaging has a great deal of potential to grow. Plus, the climate seems right because:
- Current platforms don't fulfill the need.
- Simplicity rules as users look to simplify their digital lives.
Current Platforms Don't Fulfill the Need.
Group messaging allows its users to communicate with their social connections quickly and easily using SMS and data through mobile devices. It sounds a lot like what other platforms, specifically Twitter and Facebook, bring to the table, right? Well, yes, but not exactly.
Twitter is a platform built for broadcasting, not conversation. The @reply, #hashtag and direct message offer an avenue for directing tweets to specific individuals, but Twitter is still inherently public. Private tweets are limited to direct messages, which when sending a direct message to more than one person, the amount of characters allowed is severely diminished. This adds to the point that Twitter's 140-character limit is perfect for broadcasting but limiting in terms of conversation.
The next obvious choice is Facebook. It seems that everyone is on Facebook, and the platform is in no way limited in terms of communication options.
The first communication option is the status update, but the status update lacks control. Who sees the post on a user's wall or in their own News Feeds is unpredictable unless a user directs an update to another user using the Facebook @reply feature. Still, the update is public, which limits private conversation.
The second option is sending messages to a Facebook Group. However, Groups are focused on topics and shared interests, not conversation between a group of friends. In addition, there's a need for members of a Group to check those messages, which are easy to overlook.
Finally, the third option is Facebook Messages, which were recently updated to include e-mail, messages, Facebook Chat and SMS messages. The new version of Messages is still in its infancy and a bit too confusing for mass adoption.
The final point that is missing from both Facebook and Twitter is that users need to be online to receive the messages unless they have a smart phone with push notifications active. Our society is incredibly connected, but we're not always online. However, more and more users do usually have their mobile phones, which group messaging leverages.
Simply put, Twitter and Facebook both rely to a high degree on chance when it comes to communication, and when chance is a major factor in communicating something important, they simply don't meet user needs.
Group messaging brings simplicity to communicating to a group of people by offering speed with its accessibility, efficiency by having pre-set groups to organize communication and reliability by providing assurance that the people a user sends a message to will receive and see it. Simply put, they take the work and the luck out of the process.
With new tools popping up left and right, online users are starting to crave simplicity. They're parsing back, limiting the number of platforms they use. Instead of adding more online to-dos, they're looking to simplify and manage their time.
The Calm Before the Adoption Storm...
Group messaging simply makes sense. No other form of communication offers the simplicity and reliability of the new tools. It will take time, but like geo-location, it's going to gain more traction as consumers become aware of its value and start to adopt group messaging in larger numbers.