Secret Youth Ministry Tech: Group Me, the best text service you have never heard of.

The problem:

Youth today flat do not communicate the way people over 25 do. They dont check email, they dont answer their phone when called, BUT they text all day. The average teen can send over 300 text messages a month. the average Female teen, add 1000 to that number. The above average teen can easily crest 11,000 per month.

So clearly teens wish to send and receive info via text as the preferred method of interaction.

But there are limitations, not least of which is, that it is hard to have a group conversation over SMS. In the email world you can easily add another “to” or “CC” and when you reply just reply all. NOthing like that exists in SMS land. So lets say you need to find a time for the praiseband to practice, you will send out a group text.. and get new threads started with everyone who replies. it quickly becomes a mess. you are the only one who sees all the replies. You can take tose are forward them, but if your phone is like mine it also doesn’t keep “lists” of SMS contacts.. so it is a manual effort to forward to everyone in the conversation.

in short for someone my age it is a mess. SMS = Scrambled Messy Service.

The desired solution:

What if there was a way to set up a group and

  1. when you send a message to it.. it goes to a predefined list of everyone. And it would be great if 
  2. whenever someone replied, it went out to the same group. And it would be great if 
  3. you could work it from a computer, 
  4. or iphone, 
  5. or a normal feature phone that only has SMS.

That would be awesome. So I spent some time looking for that at NYWC this fall, and i searched the interwebs, and I also looked at what it would take to program that.

The result is until recently, there was only thing even close to this, and it was based out of India. Facebook messaging is supposed to help in this area, but I have seen them steadily pulling away from doing SMS on the API side, so I expect they wont really bridge the messaging and SMS worlds in the near future.

But more important, what I did find recently is Groupme.

How group me works:

It basically hits everything on my checklist and then some. You can fully administer it from text message, without ever going to the website. or you can grab the iphone app and use that. I find that I still prefer using the web interface as its faster, but all the functions are exposed as a txtapp.

In addition to what I listed

  1. anyone can add someone to the group.
  2. you can instantly start a group conference call
  3. And you can send a photo out to the whole group.

So it is pretty well suited for what I was wanting to do, which is communicate effective with a small group that wants to do everything over text message.

Limitations currently:

it is not perfect, and there are some bugs in it still. but they just closed a 10+MM round of funding, so they should start turning out new features over the next month or two.

Key limitations are:

  1. Doesn’t send to email, so that makes it hard to mix over 25 with the txt centric crowd, although they say that is in the works.
  2. you can’t pick where the numbers for the come from. so you create one group.. and maybe it is in north dakota, next one, Schenectady, and so on. That can create a bit of a barrier when people first get a text from an unknown zip area code saying.. “welcome to the group”. 
  3. Mute is 100% on or off. you can mute the group if the texts start flying too fast (they recommend keeping it under ten people if you can for that reason) but if you mute it, you never get another message from the group until you go in and “unmute” it later. kind of a pain.

Results so far:

So far the results have been mixed a little. when it has worked it has worked really well, and there is nothing that can touch it. But for some groups, it has been a challenge to explain exactly what it does. 

In the end I think once people get over the learning curve, this will be one of the breakout hit technologies of the year.

oh, and did I mention it is free.

If you are interested check it out below.

on the web: