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The Messy, Fragmented World of Group Messaging Apps

GroupMe phones

If SXSW serves as a barometer of all trends hot in tech, then group messaging and texting apps are one of the hottest trends—even by Austin, Texas, standards. These days, I can't open my email without seeing yet another pitch plaguing my inbox touting some slight variation on the group messaging formula. In one pitch from GroupedIn, which launched this week at SWSW, the firm behind the service, Appconomy, even went so far as to say in the subject line that the "group-texting war" is getting "redonkulous."

Redonkulous? Yep. Fragmented? Absolutely.

We've heard a lot in recent months about New York-based startup GroupMe, which has raised millions and was reportedly almost acquired by Twitter. We hear that Facebook just bought Beluga for millions. In addition to GroupedIn, we hear about Fast Society, about Kik, about Brightkite, about TextPlus, about Mogwee. Shall I go on?

The space is far too cluttered, and without a clear market leader. Unlike check-in services, a space arguably just as crowded (Foursquare, Gowalla, Latitude, Facebook Places—breathe, breathe—Whrrl, Yelp, Scvngr, Loopt), group-texting services don't have established players, nor much by way of differentiation. Yes, the space is young, but far too over-saturated with carbon-copy value propositions. Only GroupMe, boasting SMS support, Foursquare integration, and a few other bells and whistles, stands out, in my opinion. But overall the field feels too feature-light, the exact opposite issue currently facing feature-laden location services, with their badges and rewards and virtual passports and check-ins and brand partnerships.

Are group-messaging services worth all the buzz? Or are they just a one-pitch wonder, a feature (or fad) ready to be garbled up by larger social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare? Time—and texts—will tell.

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  • Malcolm Lanham

    I currently use Text Plus... but you are correct... it is feature light. But isn't group messaging also called email?! I think for group messaging to really work & catch on... it has to be a universal/ cross platform/ protocol... why SMS makes the most sense. The most useful IM software arguably has been Skype & AOL Instant Messenger... why because they were available on multiple OS and users across different OS could finally communicate. Why things like iChat, Facetime, Hotmail [when it was PC only] would not work with or accepted by the more general public is because it is not cross platform.& Blackberry Messenger is for well Blackberry users... and probably is not a good example.

    I agree too that the people using group messaging need to have a REAL reason to communicate... I can see group messaging in communities, churches, work groups, social groups, little leagusing it.  SMS makes sense because most phones do SMS on some level... and you don't need a data plan to get it... you are already paying for SMS anyways. 

  • Victor Cruz

    The only group texting service that makes sense to me is GroupFlier, which allows anyone to create their own micro publishing SMS platform open to the public.

  • Bob Jacobson

    Isn't the bottom-line question, are the groups who are doing the messaging worth all the buzz? So far, I can't see that they are. The chats are frivolous for the most part, people showing one another how cool their mobiles are or catering to online addiction. The events that they advertise to "members" of "communities" -- two very loosely used terms -- are for the most part social get-togethers for people with too much time on their hands, considering that the society we live in faces its gravest challenges in 150 years.

    Worth the buzz? "Buzz" is only worth what the buzzers make it. So far, it's a big no.

  • John

    No single leader? Really?

    Why do most people have Blackberries? One reason is because of Blackberry Messenger which has had group messaging for a while and seems to be one of the hardest things for bb users to ditch. Now that it will soon run on iOS and Android, it surely will become feature rich and pull more users than all the other services given its already large and loyal fan base.