It’s not often that WhatsApp, the popular Meta-owned chat app, shows its hand before rolling out an update, but the company has broken its usual habits by unveiling five upcoming changes ahead of time.
For WhatsApp, the star feature is Communities. This is essentially a way of having connected chats within a larger umbrella group — think clubs, housing associations or non-profit organizations. For example, you could have one large group for your child’s school, but then a number of smaller groups within where you communicate with different classes, each with a different selection of parents and teachers.
It’s an organizational change, mainly, but the feature will also include “powerful new tools for admins," including the ability to make announcements across groups and the ultimate decision over which groups are permitted within the overall structure.
To augment Communities, WhatsApp is also making group chats better in other ways — regardless of whether they’re isolated chats or part of the new system.
Two of these are increases to current caps. At the time of writing, voice calls are limited to eight participants, but this will soon be increased to 32 — which sounds a touch unmanageable, but it's nice to have the option.
The second increase is maximum file size, which will soar from a measly 100MB to a generous 2GB so that people can “easily collaborate on projects." Notably, however, this appears to be for documents and not media such as video, audio and images. If accurate, this would limit the utility of the boost.
Next up is the ability for admins to delete “errant or problematic” messages from everyone’s chats. Currently, you can only delete your own messages, and this gives a little more power to those actually in charge of groups and is a first step at offering moderation tools on the platform. The admin is usually the person who formed the group in the first place, though that can be managed through the settings.
Finally, emoji reactions will be coming, which could be a game changer. All of us have, at some point, been forced to mute a noisy group chat due to overexcitable responses. Emoji reactions — as already seen on the likes of Slack, Facebook and Teams — can demonstrate you’ve absorbed the contents of a message without needing to ping everyone in the group with a noisy “thanks”, “this is great” or “lol”.
At the time of writing, WhatsApp hasn’t given us a timeline, only noting that it’s “early days for Communities” and that “building the new features to support them will be a major focus of ours for the year to come.” That suggests it will be a 2022 rollout, but whether we’re looking at weeks or months is anybody’s guess.