Group Chat, a new company from Five Four Ventures Incubator, uses the tap fiction format and the chat medium to host and broadcast exchanges between leading figures in sports, politics and finance.

March 15, 2019

Five Four Ventures today announced Group Chat, a new app that lets readers follow live text exchanges between thinkers, writers and major figures in the world of sports, political analysis, and financial news; readers can also experience previous text exchanges in a tap based interface that keeps the conversations feeling fresh and immediate.  

“We saw many companies offer video debates between talking heads, but ultimately we -- and consumers -- found video too cumbersome and slow for a rapid exchange of ideas and viewpoints,” said Harry Enten, who left CNN to run Group Chat Politics. “But the very fact that on election night every media organization turns its homepage into a live blog or a live twitter stream between its different writers demonstrated that this kind of short form, exchange-based content is how people want to experience their news and analysis and discussion. It’s the content people want to read, the way they want to read it.”  

Group Chat’s proposition to consumers is straightforward -- you read interactions between industry figures as if you’re reading their text exchanges -- but the company gives credit to its rapid adoption in a recent beta to its elegant and easy-to-use interface, the uniqueness of the tap experience as a constantly engaging way to read, and the quality of the figures who have debated, discussed and been interviewed in the app’s launch verticals.

The way Group Chat works is self-evident to anyone who’s participated in a What’sApp or iMessage chat with friends -- or any reader of a live blog -- but it bears walking through as the “ah ha” moment for a new user might make you wonder why you didn’t think of the format yourself. The first time you open Group Chat, you see a feed of the most recent chats or a live chat if one’s happening, with a horizontal banner menu at the top offering the three different verticals.

The chats themselves are the heart of Group Chat. The app currently offers two kinds of exchanges: live and archived. The live chats happen once per day per vertical. Readers can subscribe to a vertical and receive push notifications ten minutes before a chat goes live, as well as when the chat actually kicks off. Following a live chat is easy -- you simply watch in the app what’s essentially a live stream of a text exchange between two people. You’ll see the bubble of a message being typed, the multiple messages when one participant starts hammering away. Group Chat adds some interactivity for readers, who can like individual chat comments and, much like Twitch streams, post their own questions or comments simply by typing them in as they would a message. The featured chatting participants do not see these comments in their one-to-one exchange -- they’re routed to the master view at Group Chat headquarters, where the conversation’s moderator can decide whether to insert them in the stream during portions for audience participation. Of course, this level of interactivity varies across topics and participants: some exchanges turn into massive all-in conversations, some exchanges never feature a single comment from readers. But the Live Group Chats are essentially that: live streams of people texting. What makes them so fun and engaging is watching two sharp minds at work in the medium they know best (writing!) and doing it on the fly, at top speed. Group Chat also adds a touch of urgency with a countdown timer that keeps the two participants focused and to-the-point; unlike a podcast or a video exchange, people can text over each other and text simultaneously without turning the conversation into an incomprehensible mess.

While we enjoyed watching the live chats, we kept returning to Group Chat for the archived exchanges: these chats give the reader control of the flow by letting you tap the screen to display each new comment in the conversation. We’ve enjoyed tap fiction apps, but we didn’t expect those products’ simple, tap based, gestural interface would translate so well to reading non-fiction content -- and make the experience so much fun. There’s just something about tapping to reveal new lines that’s both quietly addictive and reassuringly hypnotic.

All live Group Chats are converted into this archival experience and stored in their appropriate vertical; you could lose yourself for days in the content the company’s already created. After you’ve signed up for a vertical, you’ll get a daily notification each evening with a run down of the new chats. According to the Group Chat team, readers love relaxing at the end of the day by reading chat exchanges between smart people in the subjects they care about. “Podcasts are great and will always be fun,” the team said in a recent Medium post, “but when you’re lying in bed or trying to relax, you don’t want to listen to someone talking at you. Enter Group Chat -- you can read at your leisure, and you’re getting a perspective and an interaction that you can’t find anywhere else.”  

Group Chat launched with a subscription model: paying $9.99 a month gets you access to all three verticals, and all their content. But they have a free model available: you can watch any live chat exchange, though you can’t comment, like or otherwise engage -- and you don’t get access to any archival content. After you watch one or two of the live texts, you’ll almost certainly sign up to access to everything. We’ve exhausted all three verticals; the Group Chat team said they’re adding additional subjects and are bringing on new talent to manage each one. In addition to Enten in politics, the sports vertical is headed by sports writer Brandon Lilley, and the finance vertical is run by Hope King, who left Cheddar for the opportunity.

The Group Chat team is working towards a release that will enable its readers to host their own exchanges and promote those within a fourth vertical -- Community Chats -- but right now we find the hosts to be crucial. Each vertical hosts one live chat a day; those chats are not always between two different participants. Instead, three to four times a week, the vertical editor will hold a discussion with an important person in their space or interview a major player from their world. Often these exchanges, which have no time limit and sometimes run for more than an hour, turn out to be more fascinating than the head-to-head live debates or discussions. The vertical editors are all smart, articulate and masters of typing in chat -- when they find a counterpart who has an interesting perspective, it’s fascinating to read their conversation, like getting a peek at the text messages you dream the world’s smartest people exchange (when in reality they’re probably sending emojis like the rest of us).

FAQ 1: Can I host my own chat?

A: Not yet -- but Group Chat promises this feature is going to be delivered soon and will function something like the individual subreddits that any redditor can start themselves.

FAQ 2: If I host my own chat, can I make money?

A: Group Chat is currently going to include the Community Chats in the free offering -- anyone who downloads the app can access it -- but they say they have plans to institute revenue sharing based on the number of streams of chats, much like Spotify.

Internal FAQ: TO COME

FAQ 1: What are the early KPIs?

FAQ 2: How many verticals do we need? How many editors?

FAQ 3: What is the NFA mission?

Section 4: Early Mock Ups -- Chris developing