WhatsApp Communities, the messaging app’s anticipated expansion aimed at supporting larger discussion groups, has now rolled out to additional users as it nears a public launch. The company declined to share specific details as to how many users or which countries were seeing the new feature as testing expands, but confirmed that more users have now been given early access.
First announced in April, WhatsApp Communities is a significant attempt to re-create the popularity of Facebook’s Groups within a messaging app environment. Created by the app’s end users, communities include features designed to add structure to larger group chats such as support for file sharing, 32-person group calls and emoji reactions, as well as admin tools and moderation controls, among other things.
In addition to capitalizing on WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption and users’ growing desire to network within private communities outside of larger social networks, WhatsApp Communities also present a challenge to other messaging apps that have grown in popularity, like Telegram. The feature could also appeal to clubs or organizations that today engage in group chats across private platforms and apps like Apple’s iMessage, GroupMe, Band, Remind and others.
What makes the feature appealing to larger groups is that not all the discussions take place in a single chat, which can get busy. Instead, only admins have the ability to share announcements to all Community members through the main announcement group, which can support thousands of users. Meanwhile, members can chat in smaller sub-groups that admins have created or approved.
Unlike Facebook Groups, WhatsApp Communities aren’t public or discoverable on the platform. Users have to be invited to a Community in order to join.
According to reports by sites including Android Police and WABetaInfo, some WhatsApp beta testers were newly reporting they had gained the ability to create a community in the app. The reports noted that the ability to hide your phone number from other sub-group members wasn’t immediately supported — though it’s expected to be available when the feature publicly launches.
However, the reports claimed it was WhatsApp beta app users who were gaining access to this feature. This isn’t quite accurate, we understand. WhatsApp clarified to TechCrunch it’s the full feature that’s rolling out to a small number of users in a few countries at the moment.
The company declined to share which countries were among those with access but at least one report claims that Malaysia is among them.