I just want to make this clear: I LOVE WhatsApp. Ever since I got back to Ghana in 2012, I’ve been using WhatsApp as my main mode of communication with people. I use Twitter, Facebook Messenger and other platforms but WhatsApp is my go to tool when I need to communicate with someone or people. WhatsApp effectively killed text messaging. What the people behind WhatsApp did was simple: Build a simple communication tool and do it better than anyone else.
Over the years, WhatsApp has been steadily adding features to make their app better. They introduced voice calling, end to end encryption, emoji support, GIF support and very recently, video calling.
However, as much as I find it useful, one WhatsApp feature has started to get under my skin. That feature is WhatApp Groups.
WhatsApp Groups give users the ability to form chat groups to effectively communicate between group members. Instead of broadcasting messages or individual messaging people, you could just start a group and add contacts to that group. The idea behind it is great. But unfortunately, it has been abused.
For the record, I am officially in ten (10) WhatsApp groups. In most of these groups, there are 10+ members in there. I have professional groups, friend groups, family groups and study groups. The idea behind all these groups was to have effective communication about specific topics.
Well, that WAS the idea. But in practice, it doesn’t seem to be working.
My phone is CONSTANTLY buzzing everyday. Five minutes can’t go by before I get a new notification from one of the groups. It has gotten so bad that I now put my phone at the opposite end of the room when I got to sleep because my phone keeps blinking with that damn notification light.
I have actually woken up to 200+ messages from one group alone. (Don’t you people sleep?!!)
The problem is, even though most of the groups were formed to have certain discussions, they degenerate into weird debates, constant posts of funny pictures and videos, and sometimes spread of misinformation.
Essentially, I think the problem is that there are too many members in a group. The maximum amount of members in a WhatsApp group is 256(!!) members. The average number of people in the groups I belong to are between 30-4o people.
Imagine 5 to 10 people talking all at once, while others are sending different messages which may not be related to the current issue being discussed at that time. It makes others sit on the sideline, simply observing and not contributing (Something I have been doing).
I think the perfect number for a WhatsApp group is 6 to 10 people. It’s much easier to manage, everyone can hear/read what each person says and the group is more cohesive.
So if WhatsApp is not good for group talk, then what’s the alternative? I think the better alternative is Slack. If you haven’t heard of Slack, it is a communication tool mostly used by teams in offices for work communication. Many people say it has effectively reduced email in the workplace. Slack can be used for different types of social group and associations. I am actually in a Slack group at the moment. It is a group of UX designers from all around the world.
What I love what Slack does is that it has groups/chat rooms called “Channels“. People can create different channels and have separate discussions in there without posting to all group members. For example, in my Slack group, there is a channel for “Introductions“. Because it’s a group for people all over the world, people simply go in there to introduce themselves, say what their job titles and what they’re working on.
That’s it. No other discussions take place in that room.
Now, there’s a “General” channel which people can talk about anything design related. It’s really simple. I think it makes communication easier especially with large group members. Slack is also available on mobile so you can communicate from your computer and your phone.
But it does have a slight learning curve. That could be why most people haven’t heard of it or hardly use it, especially in Ghana.
WhatsApp Groups: Bloated, Ineffective But Necessary?
Like I said earlier, I love WhatsApp. It’s a simple and great communication tool. But its “Groups” feature is becoming a nuisance and communication is basically ineffective.
At the moment, I have muted two of the groups I’m currently in. Thankfully, WhatsApp allows you to mute groups where you don’t get notifications and constant buzzing when someone posts something. You can mute for 8 hours, a week or even a whole year.
For now, I’m sticking to 8 hours. It gives my phone some much needed rest.
Some of you reading this might be reading this and saying to yourselves: Why don’t you just leave these groups??
I would love to leave some of the groups but I make the same argument of leaving some WhatsApp groups to leaving Facebook: I have family and friends in some of these groups. I’m trying to keep the lines of communication open. Even though there might be distractions and unnecessary filler in some of the group chats, there are times when a good and relevant discussion takes place. Of course, sometimes you might have the filter out the 200 unnecessary messages to find these gems.
Seriously, I find my Facebook timeline to be 90% spam, and 10% relevant. But I’m still on there because I have friends in different parts of the world and I want to keep networking with them.
Just like Facebook, there are other alternatives to WhatsApp groups. The strongest consideration is Slack. But people seem reluctant to switch. Some people just don’t like change and are just comfortable with what they have.
Hopefully one day, WhatsApp will make Groups better and more effective. I’m just going to have to endure it until then. But at least, there’s always the mute option to keep my mind at ease.