WhatsApp Concept: Encouraging Face-to-Face Interactions through Maps

As with many American college students, I’m on many social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, GroupMe, iMessage, Messenger, Line and WhatsApp — just to name a couple. After a summer working in Germany, I became quite familiar with WhatsApp, and I discovered very quickly that despite its large European user base, WhatsApp lags behind in core group messaging functionality.

Hypothesis

Through my constant usage of social media, I’ve learned to leverage certain integrated features to deepen my interactions — using GroupMe “likes” as an informal poll, or adding a specific reaction to messages to indicate a response (without cluttering the feed). Without these functions in Whatsapp, I found it inefficient and frustrating to interact in my group messages, and I wanted to see if others shared the sentiment.

Research

I decided to interview a few of my international friends on Cornell campus who are active WhatsApp users. Through my digging, I discovered that a common frustration with the app was larger-scale than what I was originally proposing. I asked four of my friends, 3 power-users and 1 infrequent user, to see what other group messaging apps they use, how they interact with their friends on WhatsApp and what they use WhatsApp for. Users found the lack of efficient group planning capabilities to be a big pain point.

This set the ball rolling, as I set out to investigate what exactly the problem was, why it was a problem and how we could fix it.


The User Problem:

What it’s like to plan something in a group chat on WhatsApp:

  1. Your friends individually list out availabilities through text (or voice) to indicate when they’re free.
  2. One designated, dedicated member of your group filters through each text manually to find a common availability.

Imagine the frustrations — you wait for(ever for) people to respond, you lose messages in the thread, and one person is always the one doing all the heavy-lifting. When you have access to technology like Messenger’s Start a Plan or even the overlap feature in Google Calendar, this seemingly-minute inefficiency quickly turns out to be a huge annoyance. Why not have that technology integrated if it’s already available?

When I dove deeper into group planning with my users, I found two common themes across different country’s WhatsApp’s users. WhatsApp’s current functionalities is inefficient for two main reasons:

  1. One user is burdened with the task of aggregating and filtering various availabilities.
  2. Users lose time waiting for text responses from users who have notifications turned off.

Is the solution to simply implement a polling feature to fix this problem?

Looking into other popular messaging apps that integrate planning — let’s take GroupMe’s event-planning and Messenger’s Start a Plan — you still find that it’s hard to get users to either respond or even show up. Messages on these platforms have become small nuisances or distractions in a busy users’ day-to-day. By asking a series of 5 Why’s, we were able to narrow the underlying problem down to fundamental lack of engagement.

  1. Why is it annoying to use WhatsApp to plan? — Because everyone spams the group with their availabilities.
  2. Why do they spam? — There’s no other way of communicating availabilities.
  3. Why is there no other way? — There’s no feature to collect and organize this data without someone manually doing it.
  4. Why is someone manually doing it? — Because it’s the most efficient way of sifting through information and finding a time that works for the majority.
  5. Why is it the most efficient? — Because people respond to plan-making messages in different forms, it’s just easier for a human with social cognizance to do the plan-making.

Even though it’s easier for a human, that doesn’t necessarily equate to willingness to engage (or want to engage).

This shows me information about the group, but there’s no centralized place for group events.

What if there was a way to redefine how people made plans with one another online so that it wasn’t logistical, burdensome and frustrating? Would this lead to more user engagement?


The Exploration

After a very fruitful brainstorming session with a couple creative friends of mine, we came up with three concrete ideas from the perspective of different parts of the planning process. This was to change the way users would engage with the app itself when planning an event:

  • Collective Map: The integration of a map in chat to enable discovery and to centralize the plan’s details into one visual-oriented interface. Where should we go?
  • Events Auto-Suggestor: AI-powered recommendation system that recommends things to do, places to see or restaurants to explore given the time and location. What should we do?
  • Availabilities Facilitator: Chatbot automatically finds overlap in availabilities, either through 1) direct interaction with the bot, or 2) integration of natural language processing capabilities. When should we meet?

The ideas here address the concrete problem of “how do we plan things efficiently in a way that will engage the other users to attend?” Ultimately, users want efficient planning so that it’s less burdensome or clumsy for people to engage in the planning process.

The Collective Map’s discovery-based approach has the most room for flexibility and creativity when designing the interface, interactions and integrations of third-party services.


The Collective Map

The intent behind the feature is two-part: 1) allow users to discover new locations and save favorites; 2) streamline the planning process by making it more collaborative and engaging.

To design this feature, I looked at two popular apps for inspiration: Messenger’s “Start Plan,” and Google Map’s “Explore Around You.”

The idea is:

  1. provide accessibility to maps to allow users to discover locations around them — whether that be by physically looking at the map or going through an aggregated list of best-rated;
  2. have users suggest that location to engage his / her friends with the activity (as opposed to planning a time and being faced with a number of other tasks);
  3. grant all users access to time-setting and event-naming; and
  4. integrate a polling feature to track attendance.
This is a medium-fidelity flow of the Collective Map feature that I designed and constructed.

The goal behind this feature is to shift planning from logistics to discovery.

Future Considerations:

What makes this integrated feature unique is the fact that it allows user to discover locations together. This leaves a lot of room for technical challenges — such as a successfully integrating a map service, developing fast and easy interactions within the feature itself, scaling the feature across multiple users, internationalizing the feature across different countries, and possibly even integrating some recommendation system that can accurately output popular best-rated activities.

Additionally, this leaves plenty of room for cool business partnerships, such as sponsorships, coupons or special deals from advertisers — similar to Yelp with its sponsored ads.

Generally, this sort of technology exists in snippets across various apps. Seamlessly bringing together all the best aspects of each type to make the best feature with the best UX for WhatsApp is a real, hearty challenge, for both technical and product people.

This is not affiliated with WhatsApp in any way. This case study was for educational purposes.

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