Those annoying 150+ unread messages

User research to ameliorate professional conversations

The title in itself clearly states the most common problem faced by members in group chats, the pain of scrolling up the screen when you were unavailable for some time and a lot of conversation has taken place. Phew! That pain is unbearable. The same problem I encountered yesterday when I woke up in the evening and found 150 messages waiting for me to be attended in one of the group chat in messenger. I didn’t want to go through each and every message as It would take a lot of time. So, I eventually skimmed through all these messages. In the course of skimming, I ignored some important messages about which my friend reminded the last night.

Worried about this problem, I thought of coming up with an effective solution.

Solving the problem in the designers way

The first step to every problem solving is Identification of the Problem. The success of any innovation in design depends on the satisfaction of the end user(s). Therefore, the problems faced by users need to be studied and best solution needs to be identified. In order to identify the problem and get more insights into it, I prepared a small questionnaire and circulated it among my friends. The questionnaire is kept small so that everyone can fill it and questions are focused specifically to what we need to achieve from it and not to divert the people somewhere else.

The Questionnaire

  1. Which apps do you use the most for group conversations?
  2. Any specific reason for the most preferred app?
  3. What is the most annoying thing about these group chats?
  4. On a scale of 5, how often do you read all the unread messages when their number has grown substantially?

Conclusions

The response collected from different users

The following conclusions can be drawn from the above response:

  1. People generally prefer using slack for formal communication and Facebook messenger for informal group conversations due to a lot of distractions on Facebook.
  2. The chat threads become hard to manage once they have gone unnoticed for long duration which generally results in skimming through the messages, in which case, important messages might get ignored.
  3. About 90% people found it difficult to read all the unread messages when they have grown large in number. Only 10% people read full unread messages.
A majority of people taking part in the study expressed that they would read all the messages only if they are either informed about their importance beforehand or are aware of the same. Failing to which may lead to skimming or even complete ignorance of the messages.

Gestalt Principles

Gestalt Principles are are set of principles in psychology to describe what observations humans do in a set of objects for making them a group or pattern. Some of the principles are as follows:

  1. Proximity: Objects which are close to each other appear to form a group.
  2. Similarity: All else being the same including the shape, distance between the objects, objects which visually resemble each other appear to form a group.
  3. Closure: It refers to the tendency of human mind to see complete figure even if some part of the figure is hidden, incomplete or missing.
  4. Good continuation: When there is intersection between multiple objects in a figure, human mind tend to see each object as a single uninterrupted object.
  5. Common fate: Objects which move together with same speed in same direction appear to form a group, even if the objects are not similar to each other.

Out of these, We will be using principle of proximity and similarity for designing the solution of the current problem in following way:

  1. Proximity: All the messages of the group chat can be placed at one place in a single thread.
  2. Closure: The thread can have the title of the discussion going on in the group so that the person can decide whether the messages in the thread are relevant and important to him or not.

The Solution

Using Gestalt principles, The problem can easily be solved.
Naming will allow us to figure out what’s there in the discussion and Grouping will help in effective management of messages and keep our conversation organized.

In order to achieve this goal, I have thought of adding a “Discussion” feature in the group chats. I have taken Facebook messenger as the target app. However, this feature can easily be integrated into any other chats.

Why not pinned messages or channels(like in slack)?

One can think of having pinned message as the effective solution for the problem. Pinned messages allow us to mark a message as important. But pinned messages fail when we have some important discussion that needs full consideration where the purpose will not suffice just by reading the single message.
Channels (as used in slacks) could be effective means of proper organization of chat but they too can create problem if messages in channels to become too large.

Here’s how Discussion can play an effective role in eradicating this problem.

“Discussion” feature

  1. Name your discussions- Give the topic to your discussion. This will let other users know which discussion will take place here. This will also allow users to decide whether to read this full discussion if it’s a topic of his interest or it’s safe to ignore this discussion.The topic will remain stick to the top allowing the user to know what discussion is going on if he enters the discussion in between.
  2. Collapsible discussion threads- Making the chat scrollable by decreasing number of messages in the full group chat. So if any user fails to follow up with whole chat, he can go through different discussions depending on his topic of interest.
  3. Multiple discussion threads- Make multiple discussion threads to keep chat organized.

That’s all folks

Full feature in action. View it on dribbble

That’s all about the feature. I expect that the proper implementation of the idea can potentially solve problem of millions of users where important messages get skipped due to flawed design. 
Let me know in comments what you all feel about this feature. Any valuable suggestions are welcome. This will surely help me to learn more.

Disclaimer: This is nowhere close to the perfect version of the solution. Your feedback only can help me in making it better.


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