Starting today, Facebook will gradually roll out the ability for members of Facebook Groups to launch group chats about specific sub-topics that up to 250 members can join.
The chats can also support audio or video calls with up to 50 people in them. The idea is that users in big groups — like a book club or surfing club — will be able to have smaller conversations about things like local meetups that may not be relevant to the entire group.
But instead of immediately alerting them of every message in every thread, users will first get a Facebook Groups notification inviting them to each new group chat they have to voluntarily join to receive further notifications.
The social network giant has been poking around how it could integrate Messenger and Groups for a while. It already offers group chat for up to 250 members of a Facebook Event, and in 2016 Messenger tested public discussion “Rooms.” Now Facebook has settled on building chat as an extension of its existing Groups instead.
As the News Feed gets more politically combative and the algorithm preferences generalist content that’s appealing to everyone, there’s less room for niche interest content on Facebook. That’s contributed to an explosion of group chat activity on competitors like Telegram. WhatsApp revamped its own group chats with more admin tools in May to fight off this threat.
With 1.4 billion people active in Facebook Groups each month as part of tens of millions of active Groups, the feature generates a ton of activity and return visits for Facebook. With Groups Chats, Facebook expects users could “plan events, arrange in-person meetings, or have deeper discussions.” Messaging could also help Facebook build toward its goal of getting 1 billion people into what it calls “meaningful Groups” after it announced 200 million people already were as of May. With all the scandals plaguing its reputation and concerns that it polarizes the populace, Facebook is eager to find more ways to show it actually brings people together.