TECHNOLOGY

A Weekend With GroupMe: Taking The Free Group Texting Service For A Spin

10/25/2010 05:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tailgates are noisy, crowded places. Placing calls is a headache--shouting and static usually ensue--and tracking down friends can be an impossible task.

These inconveniences also made a tailgate I attended this past weekend the perfect place to try GroupMe, a service that offers free group texting and conference calling.

A day before I headed to football festivities in New Jersey (armed with a GroupMe group), GroupMe co-founders Jared Hecht and Steve Martocci, previously of Tumblr and Gilt Groupe, respectively, walked me through their product.

First, the back-story: Hecht and Martocci met through the Disco Biscuits, created their product during the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in May of 2010, and grew the company while working out of Martocci's studio apartment in Manhattan (they've since moved to a loft space in SoHo). They closed an $850,000 round of financing and a beta version of GroupMe launched in late September. The service has grown to over 40,000 users.

GroupMe provides an easy and free way to set up group text messaging--no smartphones required.

"We wanted to appeal to the lowest common denominator," Hecht explained. Martocci noted that his elderly relatives had no trouble using GroupMe to keep in touch about the progress of a family member who had fallen ill.

The idea, the co-founders said, is to help real-world friends with real-time planning.

Here's how to get started: go to GroupMe.com, then enter your name and telephone number to instantly create a group. A unique phone number will be generated for your group, and you'll receive a text message with that seven-digit number. You can add friends to the group via the website, or use text commands to customize the group (i.e. text "#add" followed by a friend's number to add someone, "#end" to end the group, etc.). You group's number doubles as a conference call line: dial it, and you'll ring everyone who's in the group. Each number is disposable, so you can create as many groups as you want, then end them whenever you please.

While users can't keep someone from adding them to a GroupMe group, if a user doesn't text back to the group after 5 text messages are sent, the text messages from the group will be muted.

So does it work?

It took me only a few minutes to set up a GroupMe account and add two friends to our group chat. Both BlackBerry users, they didn't take to it initially: "But wait do we pay for this?" was the first text message I received. "BBM is free..." "It's cool," another texted, "But yes, BBM is better." A few texts later, they'd warmed up to it: "Really good idea- esp since we'll all be on iPhones soon enough."

GroupMe's text messaging and conference calling were both flawless, although I was surprised to discover that our entire text message conversation had been transcribed and was visible on my GroupMe profile.

See screenshots of GroupMe below. Have you tried it? Will you? Tell us what you think of GroupMe in the comments below.

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