Messaging app company Viber has announced an interesting update to its chat platform today, one that creates a potentially limitless forum for publication conversation.
While most messaging apps, including Viber, built their early business on one-to-one and small group chat functionality, there has been a growing push to create something a little grander. Picture good ol’ fashioned internet messaging boards, and you’re thinking along the right lines.
Earlier this week, Viber quietly unveiled Viber Communities, which are basically public chat spaces with no real upper limits in terms of the number of people who can participate. You could have 1 billion people in a single chat space if you want.
This is an extension of sorts to the Public Accounts for businesses and brands that launched back in 2016, allowing organizations to broadcast messages en masse or to liaise with customers on a one-to-one basis.
Though the mighty Facebook offers public group networking via Facebook Groups, the company has also dabbled in extending into more niche, topic-specific public group chats in the past. Back in 2014, for example, it launched the standalone Rooms app that allowed users to create individual chatrooms (anonymously) around specific topics, but that app was eventually killed off. In late 2016, Facebook also experimented with a new public group chat feature within Messenger, however, that doesn’t seem to have found its way into the company’s permanent plans.
Viber offers one key benefit over Facebook by limiting the information that’s shown to other users — in addition to hiding phone numbers, it only reveals the profile photo and name, both of which the user can change at their discretion. Such anonymity isn’t so easy to achieve on Facebook.
Elsewhere, chat app Telegram extended its “supergroup” limit from 1,000 to 5,000 people back in 2016, as it made groups viewable to anyone in the public. It now seems to have extended this limit to 100,000 people. WhatsApp, on the other hand, isn’t pitched as a platform for public group chats, so its limit remains fixed at 256 people.
By extending public group chats to anyone and everyone, Viber really is opening things up, though that’s not necessarily a good thing — engaging with public groups of millions of people sounds like a headache in the making. However, there are some controls in place — forums are run by “superadmins” who set up the groups, and they reserve the right to block specific members. They can also promote other members to “admin” or “superadmin” status, and they can stipulate which members can invite other new members to join and who can participate in a chat or watch from the sidelines.
Superadmins can invite others by adding them personally (e.g. a friend) or they can create a public web link that anyone can use to join.
While these groups could be used by anyone wishing to set up a group around a shared hobby or passion, it seems that one of Viber’s key reasons for extending chats to an unlimited number of people is to encourage celebrities, brands, and even sports teams to use the platform, thus luring more users onboard.
Founded in 2010, Viber has grown to claim more than 1 billion members globally, though the company doesn’t reveal how many of those are active users. Viber was acquired by Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten for $900 million in 2014, and Rakuten has been increasingly pushing its brand in the West through such acquisitions. Rakuten also struck a global sponsorship deal with Spanish soccer giant FC Barcelona, so it’s easy to see how Viber could be used as an engagement tool for millions of Barcelona fans globally. Indeed, Viber Communities is already being used by French soccer club Marseille, enabling fans to chat with the club’s coaches and players.
For those seeking to build a business around Communities, Viber said it would also roll out monetization features in the future.
“Viber is all about bringing people together through personal connections and common passions and interests,” said Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua. “People should be free to communicate and engage with one another no matter where they are in the world, which is why we have launched Viber Communities.”
The new Viber Communities feature is rolling out globally from today, meaning soon anyone will be able to build their own subject-specific space.