Updated: Group messaging and conversation apps are everywhere these days, and it seems barely a day goes by before we hear about another major player trying to get in the game, like Skype with its GroupMe acquisition. But despite all the competition, a new entrant with a less-is-more approach and emphasis on privacy might be just what some users (particularly those in business) are looking for. That’s exactly what the new iPhone app Glassboard offers.
Glassboard is the latest from Mac and iOS developer Sepia Labs, run by
Brian Brent Simmons, the guy who created popular RSS reader NetNewsWire and desktop blogging tool MarsEdit. The new app is, as mentioned, designed around group messaging with a special focus on privacy. Users of the app create boards to which they can add users via email invites. Glassboard doesn’t plug into any of your social networks, and the only person who can add members to a board is the board’s original creator.
Finding and viewing boards is impossible unless you’re a member, and any content shared won’t be indexed for search. Board creators also have the power to revoke membership and delete boards instead of just leaving the conversation, something that isn’t an option with other messaging apps like Google+’s Huddle, for example.
Glassboard also has some nice usability advantages over its competitors, including the ability to assign a picture to each board in order to make it much easier to see at a glance which is which. You can also share images in conversations, as well as text, video and location data, and each message posted can be liked or replied to directly via commenting. It adds up to a much more collaboration-oriented experience.
Other options that you might recognize from Facebook Messenger, Google+ Huddle or GroupMe are also present, like the ability to mute conversations individually or globally and whether to receive push notifications, email notices or both. The app also has one limitation that might prove aggravating but that makes sense from the perspective of encouraging growth: You can only create three new boards to start and then you’re granted new boards for each new invitee who joins the system.
With such a crowded field, Glassboard might have a tough time achieving mainstream success, but it might need to. Its primary appeal, from my perspective, is as an easy way for workplace teams who depend on mobile devices to stay in touch (like a small distributed sales force, for example) and collaborate without having to worry about distraction from their social networks. Glassboard is also available on Android and Windows Phone 7 platforms too, so using it doesn’t depend on what kind of mobile device your teammates are using.
Ed: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Brent Simmons as Brian Simmons.