WhatsApp isn’t usually known for signposting upcoming changes, but the Meta (née Facebook) owned company has broken the habit of a lifetime by announcing five things that it hopes will make group chats a bit more useful before the end of the year.
Communities is the big change that WhatsApp wants everyone to talk about, but frankly it’s not half as interesting as one of the four footnotes added afterwards, so we’ll start there: emoji reactions are coming.
Yes, gone are the days when you have to decide between boring everyone else in the group chat with dull platitudes like “lol” or “thanks” or rudely ignoring people — you’ll soon be able to silently respond to a message with a reaction underneath it, just as you can on the likes of Facebook and Slack. Yes, this has been suspected of being in the works for a while, but it’s nice to have it finally confirmed by the company.
Okay, back to the thing WhatsApp actually wants you to talk about — Communities. We’re not sure why WhatsApp dedicates 327 of its 544 words in the post to this, as it really feels like a slightly boring administrative change, but here goes.
Essentially it’s a way of uniting disparate group chats under a larger umbrella grouping. In other words, if you have lots of group chats from your kid’s school — one for their English class, another for their form group and another for the football team or whatever — these can now be united by the school as a whole.
Good news for fans of petty power trips: alongside this, WhatsApp will be providing “powerful new tools for admins”. It also means that owners can send announcements to all affiliated chat groups, rather than contacting each one individually.
Right, back to those other footnotes. Nothing as interesting as emoji reactions, but WhatsApp has increased both the maximum number of people on a voice call (from eight to 32 — enough for two whole football teams with five subs each, as chaotic as that sounds) and maximum file transfer size (2GB, up from 100MB).
That second increase doesn’t seem to impact videos or photos, sadly, and is purely for documents. As WhatsApp puts it, it’s to allow people to “easily collaborate on projects,” though I suppose you could sneakily slip a 1.9GB video file into a PowerPoint presentation if you really wanted.
The final change is allowing group admins to delete messages from other people. Previously only the author of a message could delete words from WhatsApp group chats, but now admins — usually the person who set up any given group — can censor content too. Again, good for power trippers with nothing better to do with their days.
This nod to content moderation isn’t a sign that Meta is going to be monitoring your chats, though, and end-to-end encryption is still a big part of the deal.
“This security technology has truly never been more necessary to protect people’s privacy and safety,” the company writes. “Close knit groups — schools, members of a religious congregation, even businesses — very much want and need to be able to have secure and private conversations without WhatsApp monitoring their every word.”
No word as to when these changes are going to land, but it will apparently be “a major focus” for the company “for the year to come”. So that could mean days, weeks or months. Probably months.