WhatsApp has officially launched WhatsApp Communities, a new feature offering larger and more structured discussion groups.
WhatsApp Communities like neighborhoods, parents at school, and workplaces can now connect multiple groups together under one umbrella to organize group conversations on WhatsApp. To get started, tap on the new communities tab at the top of your chats on Android and at the bottom on iOS. From there you can start a new Community from scratch or add existing groups.
Once you’re in a community, you can easily switch between available groups to get the information you need, when you need it, and admins can send important updates to everyone in the Community
Communities bring a number of new features to the messaging platform, including admin controls, support for sub-groups and announcement groups, 32-person voice and video calls, larger file sharing, emoji reactions, and polls.
Communities themselves can support groups of up to 1024 users and offer end-to-end encryption.
Some of the features developed for Communities, like emoji reactions, large file sharing (up to 2GB) and the ability for admins to delete messages, had already made their way to the WhatsApp platform ahead of the launch.
WhatsApp Communities are meant to be used by members who may already be connected in the real world. Unlike Facebook, WhatsApp is phone number-based, meaning people joining these discussion groups already have some familiarity with one another, as they may have exchanged phone numbers or at least have shared their number with a group admin. However, the phone numbers will be hidden from the wider Community and only made visible to admins and others in the same sub-groups as you.
This is meant to balance users’ demand for privacy with the need to allow fellow group members to reach you. For instance, you may not personally know every parent on your kid’s sports team, but you’re likely comfortable interacting with them in a private group setting that may exist as a sub-group of the entire school’s Community.
Admins of existing group chats will be able to transition their group to Communities if they prefer, or they can opt to re-create their group as a Community from scratch. Admins also have the power to add members to the groups or they can send out invite links that allow others to become Community members.
Communities are structured with one main announcement group which alerts everyone of the most important messages. Members can only chat in small sub-groups approved by the admin. This is meant to keep members from being bombarded with messages about group happenings and events they’re not connected to.
In an announcement, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg also stressed the encryption aspects of the Communities feature, saying that the company is “aiming to raise the bar for how organizations communicate with a level of privacy and security not found anywhere else.”
“The alternatives available today require trusting apps or software companies with a copy of their messages – and we think they deserve the higher level of security provided by end-to-end encryption,” he said.
Communities have been in testing with over 50 organizations in 15 countries to gain early feedback. In August, WhatsApp confirmed it had rolled out the feature to a small number of testers but didn’t offer a launch date.