Skype announced that it is acquiring GroupMe for an undisclosed sum. Acquiring the young mobile group messaging service expands Skype's arsenal of communication tools and gives Skype (and by extension Microsoft once the purchase of Skype is complete) tools to compete with the Huddle feature of the Google+ mobile app.
Skype has established itself as a leading Internet-based voice over IP (VoIP) provider around the world. Skype also delivers video conferencing and instant messaging, and has focused recently on bringing those tools and capabilities to mobile platforms like iOS and Android. Now, with GroupMe, Skype can add group chat sessions to the mix.
In an online press release, Skype explains, "The acquisition of GroupMe complements Skype's leadership in voice and video communications by providing best in class text-based communications and innovative features that enable users to connect, share locations and photos and make plans with their closest ties."
Google's nascent social network, Google+, offers a similar feature in its mobile app with Huddles. A Google+ Huddle lets you set up a sort of mobile chat room with a Circle or Circles (the term Google+ uses for segregating contacts into different groups), or by just adding specific individuals to the Huddle. A group of friends trying to sync up and make plans for the evening, or a project team trying to collaborate on a task deadline can benefit from the ability to instant message each other as a group.
Skype has an advantage over Google+ Huddles. Huddles require participants to be a part of the Google+ social network. Right now, Google+ is still in a limited "Field Trial" that is invitation-only, but even when the service becomes available to the public there will be many who will choose not to jump onboard.
Granted, to use Skype mobile group chat users will have to use Skype, but that is users are more likely to join a messaging service than another social network, and Skype already has an audience of 175 million. Combine that with the integration Skype has with Facebook messaging, and the possibilities that could result from combining Skype and GroupMe with other Microsoft tools and products, and you have a powerful mobile communication and collaboration platform.
There is one limitation, which seems to be a handicap for both GroupMe and Huddles--the service only works on mobile devices. It is nice to be able to have group chat sessions from an iPhone or Windows Phone 7 smartphone, but what if some members that need to participate in the group chat are sitting at their PC? There should be integration with the desktop tools (be it Skype or Google+) that enables group chat across all platforms.