Our view of bacteria, from the earliest observations through the heyday of antibiotic discovery, has shifted dramatically. We recognize communities of bacteria as integral and functionally important components of diverse habitats, ranging from soil collectives to the human microbiome. To function as productive communities, bacteria coordinate metabolic functions, often requiring shifts in growth and development. The hallmark of cellular development, which we characterize as physiological change in response to environmental stimuli, is a defining feature of many bacterial interspecies interactions. Bacterial communities rely on chemical exchanges to provide the cues for developmental change. Traditional methods in microbiology focus on isolation and characterization of bacteria in monoculture, separating the organisms from the surroundings in which interspecies chemical communication has relevance. Developing multispecies experimental systems that incorporate knowledge of bacterial physiology and metabolism with insights from biodiversity and metagenomics shows great promise for understanding interspecies chemical communication in the microbial world.