WhatsApp will launch “Communities” – more structured group chats with admin controls – TechCrunch

Meta is investing billions of dollars in building the metaverse as the future of social media, but in the near term, the tech giant is looking to the power of messaging to connect users in more personal ways. On that front, the company today outlined its plans for a significant update to its WhatsApp messaging app that will now allow users to not only connect privately with friends and family as before, but also to participate in larger discussion groups, called Communities. These groups aim to serve as a more feature-rich replacement for larger group chats with added support for tools such as file sharing, 32-person group calls, emoji reactions, as well as tools administration and moderation controls, among others.

The feature has been in development for some time as the next big iteration of the WhatsApp platform, intended to capitalize on the app’s existing end-to-end encryption as well as users’ growing desire to join. private communities outside of major social platforms, like Facebook.

In particular, the communities could present a challenge to other messaging apps like Telegram – which has recently become a major player in Russian-Ukrainian war-related communications – in addition to other private messaging platforms. , like iMessage or Signal, as well as apps like GroupMe, Band, Remind, and others used to communicate with groups.

“It’s been clear for some time 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 media 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 lives. It’s more intimate and private, and with encryption it’s also more secure,” he added.

Picture credits: WhatsApp Communities Features

The feature may initially lead to 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 most recent public data. Similar to groups, WhatsApp communities would allow organizations, clubs or schools to create networks for their members to interact and share news and updates. And like the recently added Facebook Groups, Communities also supports the ability to host subgroups.

For example, a voluntary organization might create a subgroup discussion for people involved in a particular project, such as a food drive. A group of parents could host subgroups depending on the age of their children. A school may include subgroups for different classes or extracurricular activities. A club could host sub-groups dedicated to planning their various events and activities. Etc.

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

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, explains the difference: “we are based on phone numbers”.

“When you interact with people on WhatsApp, it is necessary to exchange your phone number with them. So it indicates communities where you know these people in real life,” he says. “Maybe you don’t. You don’t have all the phone numbers of all the parents in your child’s class, but you’re comfortable interacting with them that way.”

Picture credits: WhatsApp community reactions feature

In Communities, users will also be able to see the phone numbers of other people who participate in subgroups with them, or when they interact with each other. It makes the product more personal than something like Facebook groups.

Another key differentiator between communities and Facebook groups is that the latter includes public or discoverable groups on the platform. WhatsApp communities are neither. The company says it won’t allow users to search or discover communities on its service. You must be invited to groups to join them.

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

“We don’t have a specific number, but when you talk to people in many countries where WhatsApp is popular, it’s really common that people don’t, at this point, just use WhatsApp to talk to family or to their friends,” says Cathcart. “They use it to talk to their boss and co-workers. They use it if they have kids at school.

“What we’re doing now is start building organizational use cases with intent,” he says.

Admin Tools Come to Mail

To grow their groups, admins can add members to communities individually or they can share an invite link. Fortunately, for clubs and other groups where members come and go, admins have the power to remove individual members from a community if necessary.

Additionally, only admins will have the power to share ads with all community members through the main ad group (as it’s called), which will initially support “several thousand” users. Community members can only chat in small groups that admins have created or approved.

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

This, along with subgroups, could solve the overload problem that occurs in many group chats today where important information is missed amid chatter and irrelevant content.

Picture credits: Voice calls from WhatsApp communities

Communities additionally bring other group management tools to messaging, including the ability for group admins to moderate content. Admins will be able to delete stray 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 times when it’s easier to talk live rather than text, the company says.

Users will also have control over their addition to communities. In WhatsApp settings, users can already decide who can add them to a group chat; now, these same settings will also apply to communities. Users can report abuse, block accounts, and leave communities when they no longer wish to participate. In Communities, users can silently leave a group, which does not notify other users like in traditional WhatsApp chats.

While WhatsApp is promoting its end-to-end encryption as another reason to use the new chats feature, the company has yet to overcome user hesitation due to issues with its latest attempt to update its privacy policies. privacy. Last year, the company faced backlash over its hard-to-understand policy update, which is still under review by anti-competitive authorities and regulators in some markets, including in the United States. EU and India.

Cathcart says after WhatsApp added more clarity to its policy, a “big, overwhelming percentage of the user base” accepted the update. Anyone who declined is simply not able to use the new business-related feature. Communities, he notes, won’t need another policy update at this time.

“It fits very closely with what we were doing before. And from a data perspective, it’s all encrypted end-to-end on communications — [it] works very similarly to how bands worked,” he says.

The new feature is not live today. It is initially launching in a limited test with selected communities for further feedback before a public rollout. WhatsApp hasn’t said when the feature will hit the mainstream, but notes that some of Communities’ new features, such as reactions, file sharing and 32-person calls, will roll out sooner.

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