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Friday, April 12, 2024

Column: The glory of group MMS

It’s Friday — the night is young and you and your crew are trying to decide what to do. Pregame? The bars? Biking? Walking? 10 p.m.? 11:30? The democratic decision-making process, as you know, is slow. Getting five people up and out the door takes sophisticated coordination and considerable effort.
Thankfully, Guinness released a clever video earlier this year, featuring a highly-trained sheepdog and seven dudes, to help struggling souls round up their friends. The video demonstrates an effective way to herd your friends away from the couch and into a pub (that, of course, serves Guinness). The tried-and-true practice of sheep herding, using equal parts fear and coercion, is one way to rectify your case of Friday night indecision. But if a disciplined border collie isn’t at your disposal, I’d like to propose an alternative.
Meet group MMS — the best thing since sliced bread and your new best friend. You can send a text to multiple people and those recipients can reply to the whole party. No one is left behind because all the responses are catalogued into one running thread. Every person included in that group MMS will have received that text and will have the ability to respond.
For once, you and your crew can be on the same page, at the same time. Unless you are the friend not included in the group text — which feels a lot like Angelina Jolie’s leg at the Oscars — just a bit out of touch.
The problem with group messaging is that it is largely proprietary. In other words, if you don’t have the same kind of phone that your friends do, you won’t be able to group text with them. The pity.
The non-Blackberry-using friends of Blackberry users were the first to experience group text FOMO (“fear of missing out”). BBM, aka Blackberry Messenger, created an exclusive club of crazed mobile addicts. They tapped away until their thumbs were nearly defunct, but not for nothing — BBM was a great service. So great, in fact, that Apple stole it for their (very) similar iMessage software so that iPhone users could vigorously exercise their thumbs too.
What made BBM so addictive? Its utility, which is why other mobile makers were so eager to incorporate the same product into their phones. The best-loved feature of BBM was probably its real-time delivery and read receipts. BBM users can also send mobile instant messages, pictures, audio recordings, map locations, files and emoticons to each other over the data network or Wi-Fi. If the network isn’t available, messages are sent as SMS (standard text messages).
All this will sound familiar to iPhone users because, well, Apple took the technology as their own when they unveiled iMessage last fall. Google Voice brought group messaging and the like to Android users …but still, the problem of proprietary software remains. That one friend with the wrong cell phone will just have to be left out of the group text, like Angelina Jolie’s leg.
But there are apps, lots of them, trying to fill that gap in the mobile space. Kik, who offers what BBM, iMessage and Google Voice do for free, may be the most popular multi-platform messaging app. But I prefer Skype’s group messenger, GroupMe. At Coachella, holding up glowing neon sticks just didn’t cut it — my group relied on GroupMe to keep in touch. You can view a map of your group’s locations and send or hide certain messages in the thread. Facebook Messenger is another such app allowing its users to reach their Facebook friends who are on their phones or the web. This Facebook app stands on its own, apart from the normal mobile app which is probably why it runs so well.
The mobile sphere will only see a rise in group messaging apps in the future to meet the desire for real-time collaboration tools. Since these apps allow you to send messages for free, charging for texting may have run its course. It’s also a nice nod to the days of AIM — the days of group chat and knowing when your buddy is typing.

Group MMS is indisputably practical but there is one downside — the constant stream of pings from friends who never stop, in the words of Ke$ha, blowing up your phone.

NICOLE NGUYEN wants to know when you feel FOMO. Contact her at niknguyen@ucdavis.edu.

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