The thing that almost tore PoNY apart this year wasn’t a bad teammate, a fiery practice, a poor coaching decision or nearly going winless at Colorado Cup. It was deciding which chat app to communicate on.
There were some major players I could happily blame for the Slack vs. GroupMe war that ravaged our team, myself included, but there’s no reason to dredge up an old fight (you should know, though, that Jimmy Mickle was #TeamGroupMe — and Jimmy is never wrong).
Arguments about which app to use ranged from the sensical (“We can create various channels on Slack”) to the absurd (“Revolver uses Slack and they win a lot”) and sometimes included weighty, meaningful points (“GroupMe has polls, which are the single greatest device on any group messaging chat app ever”). Our debate over which app to use lasted for an insufferable three months of the summer, many of which included team communications being divided across various GroupMe groups and Slack channels. One minute Bryan Jones is posting film study with YouTube timestamps in Slack, the next minute BVH is changing what field we are practicing on in a GroupMe message group nobody is looking at before practice. It was, in a word, hell.
So when my good friend David Vatz pitched me on writing about a chat app he and some colleagues had built specifically for ultimate last week, I was intrigued. Vatz is a business-minded guy who has been playing and coaching ultimate his entire life at various levels in different divisions.
The app, still in its beta-phase, is essentially an intersection of Facebook Events and GroupMe. It’s called Banda Chat (points for a good name) and has a simple, familiar layout. The chat part of the app looks and functions like GroupMe and the more individual, event-focused part of the app looks almost identical to Facebook events.
Vatz is no stranger to the intersection of technology and ultimate. He’s also the CFO of Ultimate Central, a Squarespace-like custom website platform designed specifically for running ultimate leagues, camps, and tournaments. Also on board are Ultimate Central developers Christian Jennewein, formerly of the German national team, and Vincenzo Vitiello, who plays for San Francisco Blackbird. Together, the three envisioned and built the app. The link to UC also offers some synergy: users of both platforms will find they can now automatically create Banda groups for their Ultimate Central teams through their profile page.
Because Vatz is a friend, and I think the app addresses a real need in the ultimate community, I agreed to review it under two conditions: 1) I was going to be honest about places where I thought the app was weak. 2) Vatz promised me that one day soon polls would be a function on Banda Chat (he was already planning to have them, but now with more urgency). I’ve always been a fan of hearing the bad news first, so let’s start with some of the app’s weaknesses.
For one, it functions a bit slower than GroupMe or Facebook Events does. This is not an insignificant problem, but — Vatz assured me — it’s the number one priority of the development team. In fact, in the time since I downloaded the app (last Wednesday) to writing this story (Monday morning) its speed improved noticeably, and it sounds like another update to improve the speed is being launched before this article is supposed to run. And, as most developers seem to acknowledge, functional speed is typically an issue on new apps in beta phase. Because Banda also encourages more channels, groups or events like Slack does, you can also slow the app in its current form down by having lots of chats in a group.
Another shortcoming is the simple fact that the app is new, so some key features (like polls, which absolutely have to be on any group chat app) haven’t been added yet. The coming attractions include “event polls” so you can vote on where to go for a post-tournament dinner, updates to chat functionality and new ways to share photos in the events part of the app (you can already share photos in chat).
Finally, the greatest hurdle the app has is all of our laziness: the unavoidable nuisance of downloading a new app, getting familiar with it, typing in your email address and creating a profile.
The upsides, though, are worth writing home about.
Generally speaking, the app has the most important strength an app can have: it’s intuitive. It looks familiar, it feels familiar, and it’s not hard at all to work around. Perhaps the biggest thing for ultimate teams is that you can simply create events for individual practices, workouts and tournaments that allow event-specific communication without bothering people who won’t be there. It’s like Slack, except there aren’t any of those lame hashtag channels.
The most important and game-changing feature of the event-specific chats is that if a detail of the event is changed, like a time, location, or if the event is cancelled, a push notification is automatically sent out to everyone in that event. For team organizers, this lifts a huge burden that I’ve experienced as a captain where you have to announce a change is happening via email, Facebook, GroupMe, Slack, text message, phone call, carrier pigeon or an Ultiworld homepage news splash and then four people still don’t get the memo and one idiot shows up without his cleats anyway.
You can also send direct messages on Banda Chat easily and create smaller, multi-person chats within your team. This, like GroupMe, is especially nice for buddy groups, leadership chats, car groups, and dividing strategic communication across lines and positions.
Since Vatz is an ultimate player, the app is being built by and for ultimate teams and updates will undoubtedly address the needs of the ultimate community. Banda Chat is already being used by some of the teams he plays for or is connected to: Temper, Thunderbirds, Rest Stop and a few Pittsburgh high school teams. But it’d be awesome if more of us downloaded the app, gave it a shot with our teams, complained directly to Vatz and showed some support for an ultimate player who is creating something specifically for us.
Personally, I’m looking forward to pitching Banda Chat to PoNY and starting a new World War to get us ready for 2019.