WhatsApp officially launches its new group chat feature, Communities • TechCrunch

WhatsApp today officially launches Communities, the new feature offering larger and more structured chat groups that were first tested earlier this year. Designed to help organizations, clubs, schools, and other private groups communicate better and stay organized, Communities brings a number of new features to the messaging platform, including admin controls, support for subgroups and paging groups, 32-person voice and video. calls, larger file sharing, emoji reactions and polls.

Communities themselves can support groups of up to 1024 users and offer end-to-end encryption.

Some of the features developed for communities, such as emoji reactions, large file sharing (up to 2 GB) and the ability for administrators to delete messages, had already made their way to the WhatsApp platform before the launch today. Now, the company says polls, 32-person video calls, and larger groups will also be supported on WhatsApp more broadly outside of Communities.

The new feature may initially draw comparisons to Facebook Groups, as they both support things like subgroups, file sharing, admin features, and more. But while Facebook groups are often used by disconnected strangers who share a common interest, WhatsApp communities are meant to be used by members who may already be connected in the real world. Unlike Facebook, WhatsApp is phone number-based, which means people who join these chat groups already know each other, as they may have exchanged phone numbers or at least shared their number with a group admin. . However, the phone numbers will be hidden from the wider community and will only be visible to admins and others in the same subgroups as you.

This is intended to balance users’ request for privacy with the need to allow other members of the group to reach you. For example, you may not personally know all of the parents on your child’s sports team, but you are probably comfortable interacting with them in a private group setting that may exist as a subgroup. of the entire school community.

Also, unlike Facebook groups that can be discovered on the platform, WhatsApp communities are hidden. There will be no search and discovery feature available – you must be invited to join.

Picture credits: WhatsApp

At launch, admins of existing group chats will be able to transfer their group to Communities, if they prefer, or they can choose to recreate their group as a Community from scratch. Admins also have the power to add members to groups or they can send invite links that allow others to become members of the community.

Communities are structured with a main announcement group that alerts everyone to the most important messages. But members can only chat in small admin-approved subgroups. This can prevent members from being bombarded with messages about group events and events they are not connected to. For example, members can create a subgroup for a volunteer project or a planning group, where only certain people would need to discuss.

The launch of Communities could challenge other apps that have become popular for private and large group communications, including Telegram and Signal, as well as standard messaging platforms like iMessage, and apps aimed at organizations or businesses. schools like GroupMe, Band, TalkingPoints, Remind and others.

In an announcement, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg also highlighted the encryption aspects of the Communities feature, saying the company “aims to raise the bar for how organizations communicate with an unparalleled level of privacy and security.” somewhere else”.

“Alternatives available today require apps or software vendors to be trusted with a copy of their messages – and we believe they deserve the higher level of security provided by end-to-end encryption,” a- he declared.

Picture credits: WhatsApp

There are always concerns that communities like this could facilitate groups that engage in illegal or dangerous behavior, in the same way that Facebook groups have allowed health and election misinformation to flourish in recent years. , stoking the fires that led to events like the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot, for example. WhatsApp’s measures to stop such things seem limited, as the company says it will rely on available unencrypted community information like its “name, description, and user reports” to determine if a action is needed.

It says that if it finds that a group is being used to distribute child sexual abuse material, coordinate violence, or engage in human tracking, it will ban individual community members and admins, disband the community or ban all members of the community, depending on the situation. . However, the company noted that messages that have already been forwarded will only be able to be forwarded to one group at a time, instead of five, which is the current forwarding limit, in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. disinformation.

The company, of course, is also struggling to rebuild its reputation on the privacy front after the backlash of its hard-to-understand policy update last year, which caught the attention of some anti-competitive authorities and regulators. regulations, including in the EU and India. WhatsApp later added more clarity to its policies and noted that launching Communities would not require another policy update.

The communities have been tested with over 50 organizations in 15 countries to get early feedback. In August, WhatsApp confirmed that it had rolled out the feature to a small number of testers, but did not offer a launch date.

Today, the feature will start rolling out to the wider WhatsApp user base, reaching all users around the world over the next few months on Android and iOS.

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