What is Group Messaging? Top Group Messaging Services to Watch Out for
Group messaging - the next big thing?
Just when you thought that communication couldn’t get any better with social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, in comes group messaging!
Well, it certainly was the most buzzed-about technology talk at the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference in Austin, Texas this year. Several group messaging startups such as GroupMe, Fast Society and textPlus were present at the conference and encouraged the attendees to use their services to get a first hand experience of what group messaging was all about.
What is group messaging?
You might be wondering, what is all this hue and cry about group messaging when there are already so many 'other' ways to communicate with groups.
We have our favorite instant messaging services - GTalk, AIM, Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger which even enable you to chat with people while you are on the move, thanks to the smartphone versions of these apps.
And then we have the smartphone version of Facebook Groups which allow you to social network with your group at all times.
But here is the catch, all that I just mentioned above do not work well with all mobile devices, you would require a smartphone with a decent cellular signal to successfully use these apps to their full potential. And that’s where group messaging services come into the picture.
Group messaging services have gone a step further and made it possible to use their service for anyone, on any phone.
So, how does this work? Well, its pretty simple actually...
The group messaging service allows you to set up groups either online or using a smartphone app and then invite members to join in. For example, set up separate groups for your family, friends or colleagues and then send out invitations asking them to join in. The service assigns each group a unique phone number, whenever a member sends a text to that number, everyone in the group receives the message.
Simple, isn’t it? You don’t have to be a tech savvy, smartphone user to take advantage of this service! You just need to have a mobile phone and enough thumb dexterity to type in text and join in the conversations!
Also, since texting works better even if the cellular signal is faint, this method of communication proves to be more fruitful when you are in a situation where the internet and voice calls become unusable.
Group messaging services available
Let us take a look at some of the popular group messaging services already available who were present at the SXSW.
Jared Hecht (previously a business development exec at Tumblr) and Steve Martocci (previously a programmer at Gilt Groupe) in the summer of 2010.
This startup received $11.5 million from prominent investors.
- To integrate advertisers and local merchants within this service so that people can make real time decisions when they are about to buy something.
- To offer local deals similar to those found on Groupon.
The GroupMe founders say that it is a 'dead simple' messaging app that anyone can use.
- Group texting service which works on any phone.
- Conference calling.
- Location and photo sharing.
- Ability to create and join Featured Groups such as those related to TV shows, artists and events of select launch partners.
They have already partnered with 5 brands - Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club, MTV’s Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew, Bon Jovi, Bonnaroo and Coachella to connect with fans and send them exclusive offers and benefits.
At the SXSW they gave away 2500 grilled cheese sandwiches branded with the company logo along with Shiner Bock beer!
Three friends with backgrounds in sales and marketing at MTV, Vitaminwater and Yahoo!.
It is a New York based startup with a funky tagline - 'Built To Party'.
Allow advertisers to sponsor groups and send text messages about deals and offers to all those who join the groups.
Fast Society is targeted towards the 'young and hip' crowd. “We’re not trying to be a business tool or a tool for families”, said it’s co-founder, Matthew Rosenberg.
The website design pretty much symbolizes their mission to attract the younger generation since this is what they have to say about making it simpler to stay in touch - "coordinating and staying in touch with friends can suck. We make it awesome."
- Group texting.
- Instant, private conference calling.
- Location sharing with your group.
- Ability to record a short audio 'Shout Out' which is like a group voicemail.
- Lets you know on a map where you are and where you want to go.
During the SXSW, Fast Society saw a 25% increase in its usage, Rosenberg told CNET.
GOGII Inc., a 3 year old California based startup with funding provided by Matrix Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers’ iFund which exclusively develops applications for Apple products.
Offers free and unlimited texting to iPod touch, iPhone and iPad users because of their sponsors. Now available on Android, Windows Phone, Kindle Fire and Nokia.
textPlus is already massive and has almost 8 million monthly users.
- Text as much as you want with a single person or create a group by adding more people to the conversation.
- Make 'super groups' called communities for friends, family and work.
- Search for people with similar interests to chat with.
- Create your own profile and make it searchable so that other users can connect with you.
Morris Panner and Geoffrey Crawshaw in 2010.
You can have unlimited groups and members and there are no contract or setup charges. However, there are charges for texting and voice but you can save 50% if you download their smartphone app.
GroupFlier is targeted towards influencers such as musicians and fashion designers to reach out and connect with their fan base.
- Create your first group and receive a $10 credit.
- Mass texting with customizations. For example, in a ‘reply-to-group’ group, a message sent by any group member will go to all the group members whereas in a ‘reply-to-owner’ group, a message sent by any group member will go only to the owner but if you are the owner, it will go to everyone.
- Voice message and conference calling for the entire group.
- The owner has the power to manage the group and its settings. For example, the owner can login to his/her account and turn on notifications when new members are added, turn off the ability for existing members to add other members etc.
- Non members can join the group instantly by texting 'invite codes' to a particular number.
GroupFlier was the official group texting app for the StyleX event at the SXSW, for emerging fashion designers to showcase their talent.
Ning, the 'create your own social network' and backed by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.
The Android, Blackberry and web versions will be coming soon.
Mogwee is a fairly new app which blends group messaging with social gaming. This is what Ning mentions about Mogwee in its official blog - "Mogwee is a new social communication service that brings together all of the things you love to do with your friends and family on your phone. From chatting live and sharing photos, to planning a night out or playing a game, with a single tap, Mogwee gives you instant access to everything that makes life fun."
- Social communication service for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
- Chat in groups or one-to-one.
- Share your location, photos and videos.
- Play mini-games. You can send virtual gifts such as pictures of burgers and hearts to your friends and also perform game like 'actions' such as throwing sheep or toasting them.
Latest: Unfortunately Mogwee is not available any longer. This is what I could find on their Facebook page.
"Hey, Mogwee Fans!
All good things come to an end, and unfortunately we will be turning Mogwee off on July 1st. In the meantime, get your last few games of sheep tennis in and throw your final Kung Fu Squirrels. So long, and thanks for all the flying sheep!
The Mogwee Team"
Jonathan Perlow, a senior staff engineer at Google who led the team that worked on Gmail’s user interface, Lucy Zhang who worked as a designer and developer for Google AdWords and Google News and Ben Davenport who helped to build AdSense.
Beluga was acquired by Facebook on March 1st, 2011. As of 2013, Beluga has been shut down!
Beluga is a mobile app and web service which allows users to send group messages and share photos and locations. Users can set up Beluga pods (or groups), which are similar to chatrooms but only in a more private sense.
As of now, the only speculation is that Beluga will be integrated with the Facebook chat which will allow users to join private chatrooms while they are on the site. But the question remains as to whether Beluga users will be able to use the service outside of Facebook chat.
This is what Beluga had to say after the announcement of its acquisition, “We're excited to continue to build our vision for mobile group messaging as part of the Facebook team. Beluga and Facebook are committed to create new and better ways to communicate and share group experiences.”
Facebook said that more details will be revealed in the coming months. Well, we just have to wait and watch!
Latest: Facebook has shut down Beluga after launching Facebook Messenger that's based in part on the Beluga technology. More info on PCWorld.
Where do Facebook and Twitter fail at group messaging?
Let’s start with Twitter.
The biggest problem with Twitter is to communicate with a group simultaneously due to its 140 character limitation on a single message. If you keep on adding names into the message, you soon run out of space! The only other option would be to send individual messages to all the people you wanted to communicate with.
Secondly, Twitter is way too public and the only way to have a private conversation is to send a direct message to another person or to make your profile private, thus closing off your follower network entirely!
Hence, Twitter works best as a broadcast tool rather than a one-on-one or a group communication tool.
Coming to Facebook, well, I guess Facebook acquired Beluga to address this very issue and we will get to know in the coming months how effective the Facebook chat and messaging system will become.
Right now these are the methods by which you can communicate with groups using Facebook - the status update, the message (which it recently combined with chat and SMS) and the group status update and message (which is intended only for the specific group).
But here are the problems;
The status update is very general and you have no idea who will see it or respond to it! Most likely, the people whom you want to, may not respond! Hence it does not prove to be very effective in group communication.
Facebook introduced the ‘Groups’ feature to address this very issue but then again this would be the most effective if everyone in the group has access to Facebook on a smartphone or a device where he/she can connect to the internet while on the move.
The Facebook messaging system falls into the same category and it fails to provide the ‘real time’ communication which people prefer to have in some cases.
Group messaging seems to do away with all these problems that I just mentioned above by offering a simple way to have a private communication, even while you are on the move and with your SMS-only phone. It is yet to join the mainstream explosion bandwagon but I think the impact it will have will be huge!
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