Something stirred with me last week on hearing that the Twitter pipeline has private groups on the horizon. If executed well, there’s a strong chance it could be the most significant advance in Twitter since, well, the first Tweet.
The thirst among us for short form messaging is obvious, for apparently there’s over half a billion people active on Whatsapp; roughly 100 populations of Ireland whizzing throwaway content to each other every day.
It’s a staggering uptake, especially when you consider there are two major (well, major by digital standards) barriers to entry:
- Accessing content requires a smartphone.
- Engaging someone in a chat requires knowing their phone number.
Whisper it quietly, but they’ve also become a $20bn company without doing any marketing, and in truth Whatsapp is the perfect example of the people-want-a-faster-horse theory described in an early blog entry. It hasn’t usurped SMS or MMS messaging by evolving the concept behind those technologies: instead it has made them cheaper and more accessible.
But barriers do exist, and Twitter appears primed to break them down.
Take this scenario. You’re a lecturer at a university. You’ve got 400 students in your class and you want to create a communications area for them: nothing overly official, and nothing too difficult to use – just somewhere that the students can share links and ideas, and a place where you can inform them of changes, deadlines and decisions with minimal effort.
Whatsapp seems like a good fit. But getting 400 people involved means collecting 400 phone numbers, verifying them, and adding them to your address book. All told, about as much fun as an evening in A&E. And that’s before the students run out of credit, forget their chargers, leave their phones on the bus… or trade them in for a night out on the town. Any of which rules them out of the group.
It also opens up an underlying privacy issue. Whatsapp groups display phone numbers for your non-contacts, meaning our aforementioned lecturer could unwittingly become the source of the wrong people getting their hands on the right phone numbers.
There is also a third barrier to entry: a cap of 50 people per group in Whatsapp. Obviously something Facebook’s new little brother can increase with relative ease, should they require, but still it exists.
So for the lecturer, it’s back to the drawing board with this idea. It’s either use a public forum, or implement a private forum which students have to go out of the way to visit, view or engage. They will probably need a password, which will immediately be forgotten. Proper big barriers to entry.
A Twitter private group system could, and should, be the answer. The potential to share data from anywhere, on any device, and the ability hook it into push, SMS and email alerts, all done in a rather unobtrusive and relatively anonymous way, means Twitter is a wonderful tool not just for pushing content – but for placing the onus back on users to receive it. Once part of a private group, they’ll need to get very creative in their excuses for not seeing its content.
Now transpose that lecturer’s need for a private group into any office space or work team, or to a football team, or to a tour operator managing bus loads of holidaymakers, or to any event organiser’s day – basically any situation where communications to a large private audience are required, but the personal nature of phone numbers is best not shared – and it’s rather easy to see the potential for this concept to take off.
So let’s get it underway Twitter. Do it well, and we might all start giving you a dollar a year for it too.
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