Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of this years famed South By Southwest Conference (SXSWi) was the GroupMe app. And since there’s basically an app for everything, we need to wonder what is so special about this one. What has captured the attention of tech nerds, and social network junkies all over the US?

The first question to ask is – what is GroupMe? GroupMe is being touted as “your real life network”- an app that brings networking straight to your phone, putting it all in your pocket. Taking pieces from the networking tools we’re already using, GroupMe is based on four main features: group messaging, conference calling, location and photo sharing.

Group messaging, the corner stone of the app, is a feature that allows the user to create private chat rooms that work on any phone. Users are able to create groups from the contacts in their phone and begin sending and receiving messages to and from all members of the group. As soon as a message is sent, everyone receives it and can respond to it. Through this app the user is able to maintain relationships in clusters as well as through one-to-one communication.

GroupMe also provides a conference-calling feature. Each group is given a unique phone number that members are able to either text or call. And even though conference calling is not a new phenomenon; GroupMe has streamlined the possibility into the groups that already exist through the app.

Location based apps and games have been popular for a while. Foursquare, Gowalla, Own This World and others have turned hide-and-go-seek games into fulltime jobs. With the location feature on GroupMe, group members are able to share their location with the group as well as map their movements for the group to see.

A networking app would not be complete without photo sharing, and this has not been lost on the creators of GroupMe. The app allows the user to capture their group or personal photos and share them instantly within the conversation.

In many ways, the appeal of GroupMe comes from the fact that it simplifies the chaos of multiple apps. Combining the most common and most sought after features of other networking tools, GroupMe has captured the attention of users who want to be able to access all of these things straight from their phone – straight from their back pocket.

With any new app or networking tool, the questions naturally becomes – so what? What can I do with this? And, what is this going to change?

There is no doubt that GroupMe has the potential to impact any and all group communication situations. For students and faculty GroupMe can be set up as a quick and efficient feedback loop. And students within the same class can engage in dialogue about the material without needing to know each other’s email address or friend one another on Facebook. For those of us that have email inboxes that are constantly overloaded, GroupMe presents an opportunity for direct response and communication with those who are closest to you or the project that is being worked on. GroupMe can simplify the multiple thread email chain allowing for users to get straight communications and tap into the collective knowledge of the group.

From the technology and social change aspect, the potential of GroupMe is still young and still being debated. GroupMe has immense potential to impact communications between practitioners on the ground and in the office. GroupMe allows users to communicate and make real time, collaborative decisions by bring all the major actors together instantly. Data collection, dissemination and assessment speeds up when participants are able to connect in real time and participate in intimate collaboration and communication. GroupMe also provides for a level of privacy of communication not easily delivered by Twitter Feeds and Facebook.

Possibly, the most promising feature of the app rests in its data connection detection. The app runs on any phone that is able to send and receive SMS, and the data detection system notifies users when they have a bad connection and presents the option of dropping down to SMS. This feature allows users to continue to communicate regardless of connection capacities and without the need for expensive hardware upgrades. Smartphone users and low-tech generic mobile phone users can operate on equal footing.

The potential of the app rests, as always, in the hands of the users. And as GroupMe continues to expand their international capacities and improve on their available features the potential of the app will continue to be realized.

***

For those interested in learning more about GroupMe and other software tools for social change, consider taking a three-week TechChange skills-building online course this fall:

avatar