App of the Week: GroupMe

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App: GroupMe Platforms: iPhone, Android Website: GroupMe.com

Many experts are predicting that more people will text than make actual phone calls in the coming years. This is already true for younger people, but the convenience of a short message over a long conversation, voice-mail message or busy signal (they still have them, believe it or not) is becoming more readily apparent to anyone who owns a phone, especially a smart phone.

As texting and other forms of nonverbal communications like Twitter, Facebook and others begin to dominate phone use, the need for organizing this information will become paramount. Enter GroupMe, an app for iPhone and Android designed to help organize contacts into groups for easy mass texting.

Currently, if you want to send a text message to multiple recipients on your iPhone, you have to create a new text message and add each phone number or contact from your phone book. With the GroupMe app, users can group contacts under a single heading (i.e. Family, Cool People, Nerds, People I Hate, etc.) to reuse over and over in much the same way businesses use e-mail groups to send company-wide e-mails or messages to specific departments.

If you think you don't have any groups of people you'd want to text in that way, remember that nearly all social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook utilize SMS (a fancy acronym for texting) updates. With GroupMe, it would be easy to place them into a single group and send updates to everything at once.

For broader applications, the GroupMe Web site gives users the ability to assign unique phone numbers to specific groups. This could come in very handy for your contacts who don't have the app or a smart phone. Instead of responding to each individual or to the individual sender, he can respond to the number which broadcasts the text to everyone in the group. As of now, the numbers are free to use, but we imagine this service could cost down the road.

As of now, GroupMe only allows 25 users in a group, but we could see a paid service allowing texts to larger groups filling an interesting niche for companies or organizations that might want to send out bulk text messages to people without having to pay the prices charged by SMS services. Nonprofits, art organizations, bands and others, with a few hundred users, come to mind. Branded use of the app was already testing during the Austin City Limits festival last year.

Digging deeper, the hashtag features prominently for GroupMe users. Sending hashtag commands to a list enables users to extract information (#list will send you a list of all users in the group, for example), make changes and even add users or groups.

As for negatives, the app wasn't a particularly painless install. Using the iPhone, we received numerous errors when trying to sign up. Signing up using the Web site was much easier and got things moving along.

Additionally, the Web site help section is very limited and there are virtually no instructions on how to set up various phones either through the app or via the Web site, which is not terribly surprising given it is a free beta version, but inconvenient nevertheless.

Overall, we could see how GroupMe could be a very helpful app for a range of purposes, and as we all get more comfortable with texting as one of our primary forms of communication, GroupMe is ahead of the curve.

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