A16 recently published a post on how Chinese companies are using group chat interfaces for everything from customer service, education, commerce and travel. It makes a lot of sense. Group chats are often trusted digital spaces full of high-intent users, often because they self select to become a part of the group.

From chatbots to shopping via smart speaker, previous modes of conversational commerce have largely failed to live up to the hype in the US. But perhaps the reason is not that we are still waiting for next-generation technology; rather, we’ve been viewing commerce too narrowly, as an individual experience. Group chats set up by businesses don’t have to feel transactional; to users, such chats can feel more like interest groups than one-on-one sales pitches. They can provide community and crowdsourced knowledge in an organic way while simultaneously helping the brand behind them build trust and sell products.

Group chats are already huge in India. Whatsapp has optimized for communication to flow between group chats - accelerated by a very prominent “forward” button on images and video. Information spreads between groups so things can spread exponentially faster than individual sharing. This has some clear downfalls, especially when political and medical misinformation is spread.

Groups are the primary construct in which people socialize in a mobile-first world, and I think it’s only a matter of time until major platforms open up a bit more to allow for some innovation in these spaces.