UX Note – Changing the admin of a WhatsApp group

WhatsApp has been in the news a lot for obvious reasons, and it has been praised for its focus and simplicity. Sometimes, however, simplicity is a crutch. Here’s one example.

Ever use groups on WhatsApp? It’s a great feature. You can set up up to 50 groups with up to 50 people in each group. I’ve used it spontaneously to organize get-togethers with friends, etc. and it is very useful. I am also part of a larger WhatsApp group used for more long-term coordination. I set it up not realizing a major limitation of WhatsApp groups.

The problem starts with only the admin being able to add people to groups. In order to add people, I of course had to have them in my address book with the same phone number they associate with their WhatsApp account. Okay, so I collected the phone numbers of the people I didn’t have. Not a problem. As the group grew I realized I didn’t want to manage it myself, so I figured I would add a second admin to help manage adding all the people. Except, like in Highlander, there can only be one. Then I figured I would switch the admin over to someone else and let them run the group instead. Except not only can’t you add a second admin, you can’t assign who becomes the next admin.

WhatsApp made some very good decisions in designing their app, but I wonder how they came up with the group admin handling. What is the only way to switch the admin of a group to another person in the group? Here’s the description in the WhatsApp FAQ:

Leaving a WhatsApp Group

That’s right, the only way to switch admin of the group to another group member is to remove yourself from the group. Then, the best part, the admin role is randomly assigned to another group member. Of course, if you want back in the group, you need the admin (whoever that may be) to add you back into the group.

How do you figure out who the new admin is? I guess you need to ask someone you know is in the group to look at the group info, see who the new admin is, and then contact the new admin about being added back…

I looked online and some people have struggled to find a workaround for this. What do they do? They delete everyone from the group except who they want to be the new admin, leave the group which automatically assigns the group admin role to the one person left, and then send a list of all the people who had been in the group to the new admin to be added back to the group. Crazy.

Perhaps the idea behind not allowing multiple admins, or reassigning the admin role, was to maintain simplicity, but in the end it has created incredibly complex workarounds.

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