GroupMe launched version 3.0 today, adding a number of new features and updates, including full Web access, International support, a redesigned interface, direct messaging and more. But the most notable of the new features is a "Q&A" option called "Questions," which encourages users to start conversations.Group messaging app
The updated app brings GroupMe to over 90 countries worldwide, with support for over 900 carriers. However, SMS-based chat is not available outside the U.S., only in-app chat is. The option to include non-smartphone users into a group chat session within GroupMe via SMS has always been one of the app's best features, so we hope that international markets will one day have the same option.
The company also announced that GroupMe is cross-platform now, with apps for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, but none of those apps are new as of today. The newest apps, those for BlackBerry and Windows Phone, were launched over the past couple of months, with the Windows Phone app launched just a couple of weeks ago. GroupMe did a soft launch at the time, so this is the first the cross-platform support is getting any press.
We like the Web access option that now ships with GroupMe, which allows you to start, view and manage all your groups and messaging from the Web. This is great for being able to pick up where you left off, by allowing you to seamlessly transition between devices. Too bad more mobile apps don't offer a complementary Web experience like this!
Also new is a Twitter-like direct messaging feature that lets two people have a private conversation, initiated by a tap on their GroupMe avatar.
Mobile Q&A with Questions
Of course, the biggest and most interesting of the new features is "Questions." The feature is in beta testing, but has been made available to any who downloads version 3.0 of the app. Questions don't have to be targeted directly at a private group, like the groups of family members or friends you already have configured on GroupMe. While that is possible, the app also supports the option of posting public questions by broadcasting to Facebook or Twitter. And respondents can answer via Facebook or Twitter, thanks to the included website address posted alongside the update.
According to GroupMe, the idea with questions is to initiate a group chat when the "what" is defined but the "who" is not. That is, you have a question, but you don't know who might have the answer. For example, "anyone want to go to a movie?" or "what is everyone doing this weekend?"
It's an interesting take on how to combine Q&A and social, which Facebook itself has seemingly failed to capitalize on with its Q&A services "Facebook Questions." Perhaps the key to social Q&A is the mobile component?
Of course, Facebook may have already realized that. One of GroupMe's biggest competitors is a similar group messaging app, Beluga, which is now Facebook-owned. But so far, Facebook has not done anything with the technology Beluga offers, and the app still runs as a standalone service. But as Beluga's (public) development slows down, apps like GroupMe that continue to innovate and move cross-platform have a chance at gaining a critical mass of their own. If we had to pick between the two today, GroupMe would now come out on top.