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Microsoft takes on WhatsApp with Communities

Microsoft on Thursday unveiled a new feature as part of its work communications suite, Teams, marking the company’s foray into personal messaging service. With ‘Communities’, Microsoft Teams will be taking on Meta’s popular messaging service, WhatsApp, which also launched its own version of ‘Communities’ earlier this year, on 3 November.

Communities on Teams includes a list view of ‘communities’ (which are essentially groups) that a user is part of. Each community features a social media news feed-style thread, with pills on top to filter posts in the particular community based on events, types of posts, and more. Users will be able to integrate Teams with Microsoft’s own calendar service, as well as third party choices such as Google Calendar, to save an event posted on a community’s thread — or create one of their own.

The Communities feature will remain available for free, and seek to build a consumer user base for Teams, which at the moment is negligible. Amit Fulay, vice-president of product at Microsoft, told Mint in an interview that for the initial adoption phase, the company has partnered with two organizations in India, including Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in India, and the National Hockey Association in the US.

“We did not want to create a segregated user experience in terms of making a different app altogether for consumers — and instead offered them a single platform for all things put together,” Fulay said. He added that while users will be required to have a Microsoft account while signing in, the company may change various aspects about the consumer usage experience based on user feedback.

“For instance, we already have the ability to offer multiple sub-channels or sub-groups within one community itself. While this feature is not visible right now, the code is live, and the feature will be rolled out as an update within the next month or so,” Fulay added.

The executive further added that the Communities feature will be available to both consumers and businesses. Like WhatsApp’s new Business features that allow a venture to reach out to customers, offer menus and payment methods, Communities will also let a restaurant create their own community of users, share menus and offer payment links within the platform.

However, Microsoft said that monetizing the platform is not in its plans right now. Manik Gupta, corporate vice-president of Teams, told Mint that the company is looking to test user acceptance in one of the largest consumer markets for technology platforms and services, before it moves on to monetizing the platform.

Microsoft’s launch of Communities comes two days after a report by The Information claimed that the company had internal plans of building a ‘super app’ — which included building up user base for Teams, and including shopping, messaging, news and Microsoft’s proprietary ‘Bing’ web search.

While neither Gupta or Fulay alluded to this so-called super app, the present version of Communities on Teams appears to be a predecessor to such an app in future.

Meta has steadily added new features to WhatsApp to make it more than just a chat app — now including features such as large file sharing, groups of groups (i.e. Communities), and Unified Payments Interface (UPI)-based payments as well.

Globally, China’s Tencent Holdings’ WeChat is one of the biggest examples of such a ‘super app’, including multiple experiences under one umbrella. Twitter’s new owner and chief executive, Elon Musk, has also spoken about his plans to build such a super app as well. On November 27, slides shared by Musk for ‘Twitter 2.0: The Everything App’ included features such as ‘advertising as entertainment’, videos, encrypted messaging, long-form articles as tweets, paid verification of accounts, and an in-app payments service to be included in the former.

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