In 2016, one could make a good case there are too many social and messaging apps available on all platforms. Nonetheless, these apps are still popular and overlap in function from purely social to work to video to emoji machines. Some now have voice for calls, while others are like Skype struggling to play in a mobile-first world.
GroupMe, which is owned by Skype, which in turn is owned by Microsoft has had a strange existence. It's a chat app for people who need to have group conversations, but it can also pass those messages on via SMS when data is not available, which is extremely useful.
The problem is no one knows what GroupMe is for these days. Is it a professionally-focused business tool, or is it trying to compete with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for casual users? It has elements of both categories, but it is not the best at either. Since its acquisition by Skype in 2011 GroupMe has not been merged into Skype, nor anywhere else within Microsoft, and there are no signs either will happen.
I only say this because the GroupMe app for Windows 10 Mobile is damn good. It's fast, with a clean, modern design. And here is the important part: It's fun. Microsoft has a hard time with being hip, and I think the GroupMe team gets it.
It's not just Windows 10 Mobile either. GroupMe on Android boasts over five million downloads and maintains a 4.4 (out of 5) rating from nearly 200,000 users. On iOS, it has a similar 4.5 (out of 5) rating as well with plenty of positive reviews. Sure, compared to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger GroupMe has a comparatively small base, but it is also evident its users are dedicated to the service and really like it.
Why squander that?
Microsoft has positive and popular momentum with GroupMe, and yet it is stuck between oft-lamented Skype and corporate Office 365 Groups (and ex-Yammer). Microsoft has given no indication of where GroupMe will go in the future, nor what the strategy is for the team behind it. Back in October, Microsoft actually laid off some GroupMe employees causing many to fear the service was getting ready to shut down.
Microsoft should not get rid of GroupMe or even merge it into other services. On the contrary, it should embrace GroupMe and extend it to the desktop (and not just the current web client). Toss in Cortana, maybe some of those fancy new bots it evangelized at Build, offer a Skype plugin for calls and video, and you may have just created a real Slack competitor saving you $8 billion along the way, ahem.
That reminds me: Microsoft needs to do something about Slack. The Slack team is really good, and is winning over small firms who find Office 365 Groups too enterprise-y. Slack is a straightforward, easy-to-understand product while Office services – while powerful – are a bit too highfalutin for small firms, organizations, and startups.
So, Microsoft, please do something awesome with GroupMe. It's time to mix in your other services, give the GroupMe team a mission statement and stop ignoring the positive reputation the service has earned. Build off GroupMe's success; don't ignore it and beat Slack at its own game for once — before it's too late.