BBM

Heading into CES 2014, the Mobile Nations team had a bit of war in deciding what group messaging platform to use for our week in Vegas. With 22 people on the ground from the Mobile Nations team (and ten more from GeekBeat), that's a lot of people — with very varying opinions — to please.

No surprise, I wanted us all on BBM. The Android guys wanted to use Google Hangouts. GeekBeat suggested GroupMe, which the Windows Phone guys were ok with as they had an app for that. A lot of the members of the team have WhatsApp installed and it is available on all platforms, but nobody really seemed to be in Whatsapp's corner pushing for it. And I *think* most of us had Facebook / Facebook Messenger running, but nobody on the team would admit to using it, never mind suggesting it as our solution for the week.

We all agreed we needed to be on the same app and in a single chatroom, that wasn't up for debate. And I wanted to make sure we had the BEST group messaging solution possible at our fingertips, not simply the one that was available on every platform. If that meant some people had to carry around two phones for the week because the app we picked wasn't available on their platform, then so be it.

Ultimately, the decision we made was go to with Google Hangouts. The reason? Because of the group presence and read notification. If you don't know what I'm talking about, allow me to explain.

Look at the picture of the iPhone in the photo above. At the bottom of the chat, you can see a row of profile pics. Those are all the people in the group who have read to the last message you just posted to the group. And if you look up a couple lines, you'll see Rene Ritchie's pic floating there by itself. That means he read up until that point in the message, but didn't yet get to the two latest messages.

Ultimately, the decision we made was go to with Google Hangouts. The reason? Because of the group presence and read notification

I can't overstate just how useful this functionality is, especially when you're trying to coordinate and make plans with a big group of people in real time. After I'd post a message, I'd only have to wait a few seconds for the first few pics to show up of people who were quick to read it. Sometimes I had to wait a while before all the people would get the message. But at any given moment, I always knew exactly who had read the latest messages or not. And for those who didn't, I could scroll up and see where they left off. 

Furthermore, beyond just seeing what point people had read up to, I could also see who was actually present with phone in hand with the app open at that moment. The read notification profile pics appear brighter (full color) when that person is actually on the other end with app open too. If the person just read the message and shoved the phone in their pocket, then it goes to the faded color. Again, it's super useful context to have when coordinating with people. 

None of the other mobile messaging platforms I messaged at the beginning of the article had that functionality other than Google Hangouts. On all of BBM, WhatsApp and GroupMe, when you send messages to the group they're just sent. You just assume that people are hopefully reading them. The only real way to know somebody did is if they reply back. And probably for most people, that's fine. But in a situation like CES, where you're hustling and the pressure is on, well, the more info you have to work with the better. 

When you send messages to the group they're just sent. You just assume that people are hopefully reading them. The only real way to know somebody did is if they reply back

Now, Hangouts is only on Android and iOS right now, so it meant we had to make sure that everybody on the team who was using a BB or Windows Phone also had another iOS or Android phone with them. A bit of pain in the ass, but looking back at that week I'm absolutely glad we went with Hangouts this time around. It saved us time. And it saved us from uncertainty.

This isn't to say that Hangouts is perfect. There are lot of group related features lacking from Hangouts. There's no administrative role, which sucks, as it means you can't kick people out of a room. You literally have to just abandon the room, then go start a new one. It's too easy to try and video call everybody. Photos are all in stream and there's no way to cleanly see all that were shared. When it comes to read notification though, they definitely have figured out a great implementation, and it's extremely valuable to have. 

I'd like BBM to be our go-to group messaging platform for CES 2015, so on that point I really hope this type of functionality comes to BBM this year. It's **that** important. Clearly it's becoming an expectation too, as the newly launched Instagram Direct service features similar notifications. I'd also love to see a Windows Phone client by CES 2015 too. Put that all together, make sure it's reliable on all platforms, and I'll have a good shot of convincing the team next year.

In the meantime, I'm excited for the upcoming rollout of BBM 2.0. Getting BBM Channels officially out there on iOS and Android along with video and voice calling is a big step!