The untapped potential of the group chat is massive. It is how groups of friends hang out online but doesn’t come close to how they hang out in-person. No one ever plans to hang out on a group chat because there are fewer experiences to have together. The group chat doesn’t have the same feeling of presence or provide an environment to interact with that in-person hangouts do.
For now, we spend our time in group chats sending messages, images, and talking to each other. It is a flat experience. The digital equivalent of heading to a bar or park with your friends doesn’t exist. Few people ever talk about or remember how good a message thread was. Digital experiences should be designed specifically for group chats. Successfully doing so would create better relationships and more memories.
Creating Digital Experiences
A group chat-focused digital experience happens through the combination of communication and environment. Video games provide an example of what it could look like. Gamers organize their gaming sessions through a group chat, then enter a richer, in-game, shared reality together. They collaborate on missions and quests. During these, they are communicating more, building bonds, and undergoing emotions like excitement, anxiousness, and disappointment. Ultimately, it provides the environment to create memorable moments and develop relationships with friends beyond what could happen in group chats.
The downside to gaming is that it is inaccessible for many. Games can suck up thousands of hours and require solo work. The most elaborate experiences don’t happen on phones where group chats are but on consoles or PCs. Many games can be perceived as too difficult or intimidating for casual players. On top of this, games are only indirectly connected to the group chat. You have to move away from the chat platforms to experience them. There should be many more accessible and casual options.
More Accessible Casual Experiences
The pandemic made people more curious about finding digital experiences they could do together. The games that succeeded at appealing to these people were casual games such as Among Us and Jackbox that reached beyond traditional gamers. These types of games didn’t require a massive learning curve and weren’t complicated or hard to run. Among Us was especially interesting because it forced people to do something they don’t normally do: be deceptive. It provides an experience you can’t normally get through a group chat.
There should be more of these casual digital experiences beyond video games. The options so far have mostly been worse versions of real-world experiences. Digital events are less appealing than physical ones. “Digital happy hours” don’t work as well as physical ones. The good thing about these experiences is that they onboard people into digital experiences. They pave a path for internet-native experiences to come in the future. Like Airbnb helped make “experiences” in travel more legible, group chats could help digital experiences become more legible.
Building Experiences on Group Chats
It starts with improving and building on our group chats. This is where people spend time with their friends online, and so this is where the experiences should happen. Playing a game, watching a trailer, or reading an article with friends should be as easy as sending a message to them. Experiences should build on the group chat, not move away from it.
Our digital hangouts will soon (hopefully) be as enjoyable as our physical ones. They will surely innovate faster and experiment more than physical ones. The experiments in casual games so far have shown their ability to create interesting situations and memorable moments. Continuing to develop digital experiences for group chats will allow people to develop stronger relationships. This will help better fulfill what group chats were trying to do in the first place.
Thanks to David Burt, Kym Ellis, and Hrvoje Simic from Foster for the feedback.
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