WhatsApp’s new community feature is group messages on steroids

Whatsapp's new community feature

Illustration: Whatsapp

WhatsApp gets new features that will let users expand their circle of friends or grow to hate their circle of friends. Dealer’s choice, really.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the planned feature, called Communities, in a Facebook post Thursday and said that “for a deeper level of interaction, messaging has become the center of our digital lives.” Communities are rolling out to some Whatsapp users as a test today and will be fully accessible to all users in the coming months, Zuckerberg said.

The new app feature allows users to write in selected group chats dedicated to specific organizations or communities. Unlike a regular WhatsApp conversation, phone numbers will not be available to everyone in a chat and as The edge noted in an interview with WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart, all communications are encrypted except for the name of the chat and its overall community.

The new feature is like Nextdoor, Slack and Facebook Messenger rolled into one. Examples shown by Meta in its advertising post include several different chats based in the same apartment building. Another shows work-related chats for various teams under the umbrella of a humanitarian aid group. A picture showed a group for school parents, including chat rooms for those with children in different grade levels.

“We believe that communities will make it easier for a school principal to bring all school parents together to share updates to be read and create groups on specific classes, leisure activities or volunteer needs,” the post reads.

Examples of WhatsApp's new community feature with umbrellas from different communities plus their different group chat

Graphic: Meta

And for anyone who has spent time on Facebook parenting groups, you can probably expect just as much vitriol, naming and misinformation which you might find on any online community where a person’s children are involved.

“I think community messaging will take the basic protocols behind one-to-one messaging and extend them so you can more easily communicate with groups of people to get things done together,” Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post. He added that the features shown on WhatsApp are likely to be transferred to Facebook and Instagram.

The post also showed that further updates would allow up to 2GB of file sharing, 32-person audio calls, added emoji responses to individual posts, and the ability for an administrator to delete posts. The new features will be rolled out over time. Neither the post nor Zuckerberg provided a full timeline for how the feature will be incorporated into existing apps, or whether they will allow existing group chat to become Community Chat.