Lessons from the Group Chat: Statuses

A few months ago, my iMessage group chat between myself, my wife, and our good friend Jasdev Singh, was lamenting the absence of user “status” in iMessage. Sometimes you want to let the group know where you’re at, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally, but without necessarily needing to describe it in ongoing messages.

This is something previous generations of IM tools like MSN or AIM had, but modern chat tools largely lack. Alas, this generation is largely lacking the concept of status / away messages entirely. And since iMessage is not user-extensible, we’re mostly out of luck.

Thankfully, this group chat of ours doesn’t shy away from getting meta about the chat itself — we’re no stranger to regularly discussing issues like these while we try to evolve the chat itself. One small way we’ve traditionally played with this is by routinely updating the name of the chat when the mood (or humour) requires it.

This, coupled with the design idea of prototyping / “fake it till you make it” prompted me to try something: what if we put our status in the group chat name? For example, we’ll typically call our chat something like “toasty eeps (Jasdev: Day-long allergy shots round ✌🏽, Kate: “Can you do it?!”, Jason: JAYCATION).” Here we’ve got the name of the chat, followed by individual “statuses” (which are sometimes words or sometimes just emoji). It turns out, this is quite effective! In some ways, it feels a bit like drawing with shit crayons — desperately eking out what meagre bits we can out of Apple’s rigourous control — but it does work.

Now we can ambiently let each other know what we’re up to. It’s far from ideal, but that’s the current status.

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