Need a communications tool for a very mixed-tech-skills group of people
September 21, 2019 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Does this exist? I am part of a workshop using handcrafts to bring together a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, mixed-age group of women, with heavy emphasis on community building. We need a means to communicate between classes with announcements, photos, conversations, etc., but because of mixed tech accessibility, it's not as simple as just creating a Facebook group.

In similar workshops I've done previously, we've used some kind of messaging app to stay in touch, share news, updates, etc., and it's really helped with the "feeling-like-a-group" thing. However, in the previous groups we were able to find a shared platform that everyone was comfortable with. This one is a much more mixed group, including a wide range of tech-comfort, so we're struggling with what to do.

The organization I am working with brings together immigrants from different communities. Every community seems to have its preference -- for example, in one ethnic or country group, it seems everyone uses Viber, whereas in another, it's all WhatsApp -- but previously this hasn't been a problem for us. We always managed to get everyone to agree on one messaging app, because most people had multiple of them already on their phones, even if they didn't use them often.

Now we're holding a workshop for an even more mixed group which includes people who don't use smartphones or messaging apps, on one end, and people who *only* use smartphones to go online. We just finished one workshop with this group, and those of us who have done this before really missed the additional outside conversations and socializing that happened on the messaging thread, so we're trying to find a solution for our next workshop.

What I need is some kind of service that will allow easy -- and free (moneywise - some people can't afford big amounts of data on their phones) -- communication with a similar experience for people participating from different platforms. I realize this may not exist, but if it does, I trust the hive mind to know.

I've searched around and thought about using something like, but the nice thing about the messaging we used before was that it all comes at you linearly -- I'm afraid the ability to branch off into threads in a group would make it too complicated for some of our users. I'm not sure an email list is enough, because some of the group rarely use email for conversation, but rather messaging.

Any ideas? Is there anything like a chat messaging platform where users can also read and reply to messages by email in more-or-less real time? Or can anyone suggest any other approaches?
posted by leticia to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Telegram is a free multi-platform messaging application that will not just run on smartphones but also on desktop and laptop computers (Windows, Mac, Linux). You do need a phone number and a phone that can receive a text message for verification. No smartphone needed.
There is also a web version that runs in a browser so you can even use it on a public computer.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:33 AM on September 21, 2019

Have you considered just an old school mailing list?
posted by Lady Li at 7:41 AM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

A friend just set me up with a messaging app called Signal as a less creepy alternative to Facebook messenger. It can run on computers and on phones. Looks like it can handle group chats.

My friend opted against Telegram because of the Russian entanglements.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:56 AM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

FYI: I love Signal and it can run on computers, but you do need a smartphone to set it up.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:17 AM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

GroupMe? You can get messages as texts or use the app. Getting texts can be pretty overwhelming if it’s a big group, though. Communication about program events went out over email so it didn’t immediately get buried with replies.
posted by momus_window at 12:25 PM on September 21, 2019

Email is the universal constant. This is why no matter what services you use there is always an option for them to send email notifications. This is why even in big corporate environments with lots of collaboration tools and fancy unified communication suites, we often (nearly always?) revert back to email.
You can easily learn to set up an old school email list that anyone can reply to and it creates a conversation thread. Lists can also be members of other lists which can be handy for keeping it all organised.

More techy members can use fancy email apps to make everything pretty for themselves. Less techy members just send and receive plain text. Nobody misses out on any info.
posted by McNulty at 5:15 PM on September 21, 2019

Thank you for suggestions. I use Signal myself but the need to have a smartphone makes it not a great option for us. Also, having to create an account on additional site and proactively check it might be a barrier for our older, less tech-comfortable participants. GroupMe looked like a pretty good option, until I discovered the messaging-by-SMS option only works in the US (we're not in the US).

So it's looking more and more like email or an email list is the solution. We'll just have to make sure to lean on the younger, email-is-for-the-olds crowd to stay on top of the messages.

If anyone has any particular suggestions for setting up an email list, I'm all ears.
posted by leticia at 3:29 AM on September 22, 2019

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