The Future of Group Messaging
An analysis of modern messaging, and the next evolutionary steps.
CASE STUDY PART 1: THE SOCIAL NETWORK KILLER
Group messaging sucks.
But I love it.
Group messaging is the glue that holds modern communication together. From the corporate Slack channels, the casual iMessage groups, and the entertaining Discord servers, we as people are increasingly spending time in group messages.
But there's an Achilles heel to group messaging, a bad thread that runs deep into the fabric of digital communication. From the very beginning our systems have followed one crucial rule:
New content must appear in line, no matter how many people are chatting.
This one rule for our messaging feeds, this guideline for our conversations, remains largely unbroken, and has constrained group messages for far too long. Here, I’ll propose a solution that will set group messaging free.
Overlapping conversations are the bane of our modern existence. In physical spaces, people are easily able to create separate spaces for conversation by angling themselves, or moving to a separate area.
But we can’t do that online. At least not very easily.
Every group chat is currently pained by the same frustration: two conversations happening at once, each person talking over the other.
The format for group messaging is still structured the same as a 2 person conversation, yet many groups have upwards of 100 users.
To be fair, like any problem, there are attempted solutions.
Most messaging platforms have attempted to solve this problem in one way or another:
1. A simple quote, tagging a user who previously sent the message.
2. A reply feature, which tags the previous message.
3. A threaded chat, which opens in another window.
And at this point, Slack’s method of creating a separate thread in response to any message is by far the most effective, but feels clunky within the interface, as if it were an afterthought.
A few group messaging platforms, like Slack and Discord, take it a step further and allow topical rooms within separate channels. But as the number of people in the group increases, those overlapping conversations happen in these topical channels as well.
Each of these attempts have merit, but neglect to maturely deal with the root issue: The in-line framework that defines messaging.
So then, what is our solution? How do we make this experience better for everyone involved
What is the future of group messaging?
It’s time for group messaging platforms to move away from a single-feed format. It’s time to make content accessible from outside the main message view.
To evolve group messaging, we need to add another view to group messages. Another page.
One for messaging.
One for posts. Content. Everything else.
You may say,
"The whole point of messaging is to share live! We talk about things as they happen inside a chat thread!"
Agreed. The message feed is the live expression of the group, with messages and posts directly in-line, while the content feed holds only the “high-priority” bits.
One message feed, and one content feed.
The message view remains largely untouched. This is the traditional group chat you know and love. The only difference: users comment on shared posts instead of simply replying in-line. If desired, a notifications tab could signal when comments are made offscreen.
Conversations continue to happen naturally, and when a tangent is made, the comments can continue without crowding the normal message view.
This is a group within a chat.
Images, videos, and links become posts, but so can a message or a collection of messages.
The second view in our new group structure is a place to view posts. Notable content and the relevant comments are shown here. Just like scrolling through a facebook group, users are able to see recent happenings within their group chat. This is a place to engage, catch up, and reply.
As a group continues to grow, and as a platform such as this matures, different sort styles could be added to show more relevant information. Again, not taking priority over the in-line message view, but adding context to a group experience.
The future of group messaging is a further maturation of the platform. Removing the wall between chats and groups will empower users to have higher quality conversations instead of simply being restrained by the structure of their social platforms.
These two changes: Adding in-line posts to messaging, and adding a new view for posts and comments, would open a whole new world of social network possibilities. This is the social network killer.
I’m sharing this concept to give back to the industry that has given me so much. Group chats are how I’ve maintained some of my deepest personal relationships, and I want to enable better conversations for everybody. I ask instead, share this idea, steal this idea. I want this functionality inside of Discord, Slack, Messenger, Telegram, iMessage and Signal.
I’ve barely scraped the surface to the potential of this format. A mature social platform with messaging at the core can be so much more than a sum of its parts. In Part 2 we’ll take a look at ways users can take advantage of a more free-form platform, and unique integrations.
I regularly create design and technology related videos on YouTube, and a video of this same topic will be released in the upcoming weeks.