Shivani Shirolkar

Sometime during the first semester of my first year in college, many of my classes were starting to assign group assignments. We all, as college students, are well aware of the fact that group assignments and projects can get a little exasperating, since looking for a time period where around four to five individuals are available all at once is a tough job. Of course, to keep in touch with one another, a group chat is a necessity.

As I was getting started with the first team project of the semester, I was required to install GroupMe, to surrender to the majority of all of my group members who were using it. Sure, I could have used text messaging on my own device to GroupMe-chat with my teammates, but it is definitely easier when everyone is on the same platform.

I was surprised that most people I have met in the U.S. preferred GroupMe to so many other solid apps that exist in the store, and that offer both private and group messaging. GroupMe is a messaging app that mainly focuses on the group messaging aspect of texting. Since texting plans are often relatively cheap and unlimited, the user audience in the U.S. isn’t quite as driven by high pricing, compared to international markets where plans are expensive.

This diminishes the motivation to use any other private messaging apps that may provide cost-reducing benefits, since GroupMe provides easy group messaging. However, there are certain features that GroupMe doesn’t support that makes it incompetent in comparison to its competition.

There is no way of accessing the phone number of a group member in case you need to skip the messaging and give them a call in case of an emergency, like a fast-approaching deadline. Though it is an attempt to preserve the privacy of the individual, one can always choose to block an unwanted person who has their contact information through their service provider.

Personally, I have been using WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, for the past four years, and so tend to prefer this app the most. It allows you to view the phone numbers of your contacts and vice versa. Luckily, I haven’t encountered any breaches in privacy because of this; in fact, it has only been more convenient.

Speaking of privacy, GroupMe doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption, which is a technique that uses cryptographic keys to protect content from unauthorized eyes. This ensures that nobody except for the sender and the recipient can view or mess with the content — not the internet service provider nor the application service provider.

As someone who highly values privacy and security, GroupMe would not be the path I’d pick, if it weren’t for the majority of my classmates, with whom I was and will be working. WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal are excellent alternatives that provide end-to-end content encryption.

Another thing about GroupMe that seems tedious is that you don’t have the option of searching for specific keywords to look for a particular message in the event that you need to look something up. You are not even able to save or bookmark a text to view later.

A few weeks ago, I had to scroll back through two months to look for a message in a group chat in which a member had posted her new phone number. Since I needed to call her immediately and could not wait for a text conversation, I needed her phone number — of course, this could have been entirely avoided had GroupMe just allowed me to view her new number through the app.

My scrolling would have been reduced only if enough members had “liked” that particular message in order for it to be classified as “popular,” or most liked. WhatsApp and Telegram are apps that let you avoid this problem by providing a search bar.

It’s true that GroupMe doesn’t require users to log in through a SIM card, unlike WhatsApp and Telegram. However, Facebook Messenger operates in the same way, while offering a better user experience.

WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger support more languages than GroupMe does, which is important on a college campus, where diversity is at its peak; NC State has students from all over the world. Most students in college are bound to have a Facebook account anyway, so using Facebook Messenger doesn’t take much of an effort. Collectively switching to a single alternative that’s far better than GroupMe would prove to be useful for all college students still struggling with group assignments.