WhatsApp's new feature seems pointless, but it might be secretly significant

256 group members? Imagine the chaos

You might not have noticed, but WhatsApp's latest update has bumped up the group chat user limit from 100 to 256 people.

The update is available on iOS and Android right now (first spotted by NDTV) but is yet to hit BlackBerry and Windows Phone users.

For the casual user, it might seem like largely useless. Not many of us had been crying out for WhatsApp to expand groups beyond the already-generous limit.

But when it comes to business users, it starts to make a lot more sense. It's also (I think) a hint at where WhatsApp might be headed.

WhatsApp is immensely popular - it recently hit 1 billion monthly active users - but it's still outranked in the business sector, where messaging app Slack is currently top of the pile.

Facebook, which bought WhatsApp for $22 billion, hasn't explicitly said it wants to take its acquisition into the enterprise battlefield, but there are signs it could be interested, and pushing up group chat limits could well be one of those.

Making an enterprise play?

Introducing web chat, adding Google Drive backups and killing subscription fees were also steps in the right direction. WhatsApp also announced in January that it would start testing tools to let users communicate with businesses and organisations (speaking to an airline when your flight is delayed, for example).

They're small inroads, but WhatsApp need to be much more collaborative and functional if it wants to be taken seriously by businesses - that would probably include better integration with Facebook Messenger and third-party apps.

Facebook last year announced its Messenger Platform, giving app developers the tools to integrate their apps with the Messenger service.

As for the more immediate future of WhatsApp, it's rumoured that video calling will soon be brought to the service.

Of course, it's entirely possible that WhatsApp will stay fully consumer-focused. It won't be easy to best Slack, but it's clear that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are here to stay - so why wouldn't they try?

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