Billions of people use WhatsApp every day. But the vast majority of them are doing it wrong. Amid the gifs, group chats and picture messages, there’s a straightforward way to reduce the chaos of the messaging service. Welcome to WhatsApp zero.
And trust me, you need WhatsApp zero in your life. Case in point: at the end of 2019, more than 100 billion WhatsApp messages were sent on New Year’s Eve around the world. In the UK, more than 900 million messages were sent on December 31, making the day the most popular in the WhatsApp’s history. That’s a lot of messages.
WhatsApp has plenty of positives. It’s quick to load, end-to-end encrypted by default, allows you to quote reply to keep group chats manageable and if you’re outside of the US, it’s probably used by most of your friends, family and contacts already. (Fun fact: WhatsApp’s biggest market is India, which has more than 400 million users).
The results is that there’s a chat – and most likely a group chat – for everything in your life. Individual conversations with friends, the group chat with your parents and family, and the group chat for next weekend’s dinner party all compete for your time and attention.
Group chats are arguably WhatsApp’s most time consuming feature: a group of five or six people can cause hundreds of notifications per day. In the most extreme circumstance, a WhatsApp group can create national panic through rumours that a member of the royal family has died.
A quick ask around the WIRED office demonstrates the absurdity of some WhatsApp groups: Quiche News (for sharing pictures of particularly delightful quiches), Artisan Bohemian Beer (that’s mostly craft beers), and First Spreadsies (for the giddy thrill of newly opened jams and condiments).
WhatsApp’s versatility is partly what makes it so usable. But its popularity can cause organisational problems – plenty of WhatsApp groups are temporary and will be disregarded once the event they’ve been setup for has passed. And that’s where WhatsApp zero comes in.
I spend a large part of my time on WhatsApp obsessively archiving every chat. The result is a more peaceful, less anxiety inducing messaging experience. The idea of WhatsApp zero is similar to that of inbox zero – a productivity technique that’s been designed to make email more effective.
The idea is simple: deal with all the emails you receive straight away, and then move them out of your inbox. For WhatsApp, it all starts with the Chats view. Here you’re presented with a list of conversations – both those with individuals and group chats.
Once I’ve read (and replied where necessary) to a WhatsApp message I get rid of it. This is done by archiving the message. If you long press on a WhatsApp conversation, the view will change to one where you can select multiple conversations at once. Tap on all the chats you’ve replied or no longer need – that stag do from 2014 really isn’t active anymore – then hit the archive button in the top right corner of your phone screen. (On iOS, you have to archive chats individually by swiping to the right and then tapping archive).
Much like when you’re emailing, archiving a conversation doesn’t delete it. The chat is still stored by WhatsApp and you can search for the group or individual again. When you get another message to the chat it reappears in your inbox with all the old messages still there. Nothing is lost at all by archiving messages.
WhatsApp even promotes the use of the feature. “The Archive Chat feature allows you to hide a conversation from your Chats screen and access it later, if needed,” the company says on its website. “You can archive groups or individual chats to better organise your conversations.”
The result of archiving every single conversation is a better messaging experience. If you’re militant in archiving messages, then you will never forget to reply to someone who has messaged you. The chat only sits in your inbox for as long as it needs an answer. Once it’s gone, you can forget about it. It’s a happier state of being. Welcome to WhatsApp zero.
Obsessions is a regular column in which WIRED staffers share their current internet preoccupations. Read how we’re obsessed with the hyper-organised world of wedding planning spreadsheets
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