The latest announcement from the hyperkinetic cauldron of new, new, new on Facebook is Facebook New Groups.
One wonders if Facebook is trying to introduce so many new and irresistible features that people will simply make Facebook their permanent address and leave the rest of their digital life to wither away.
Facebook has had groups for a while, but this is a new version of groups. The link to Groups is in the sidebar along with links to Messages and Events and other Facebook features. According to Facebook, the new design offers the following.
The new Groups product enables members to selectively share information with a small group. Old Groups were built around the same goal of helping people share with a group, but users told us it was harder to use that as a means of sharing personal information with a small group of their friends. The new design offers you a shared space where you can share personal information with a smaller subset of people with whom you interact on a more regular basis, like family, classmates or co-workers.
The page I just quoted explains how to find groups, create groups, join groups, chat with group members, and answers some privacy questions about groups. Groups can be open, closed, or secret. The default setting for new groups is closed. When a group is closed, everyone can see that it exists and who the members are, but cannot see what has been shared in the group space. You can search for groups and ask to be permitted to join closed groups you are interested in.
.eduguru posted a helpful summary of the pros and cons of Facebook's new Groups.
- Notifications are a huge deal. Groups now have advanced options on how they receive notifications. This option will drive more return visits to the group as they receive notifications on post comments and ‘likes’.
- Group chat is an option students have been waiting for. It’s dead simple to use and will be another reason group members keep engaged and return to the Group page. All members of a group can use group chat, regardless of whether they are ‘friends’. Only ‘friends’ can contact each other through individual chat messages.
- Docs allow administrators an easy way to post deadlines, FAQ’s, and general updates to the group. Docs can be viewed and edited by any member of the group, allowing for a wiki-like experience.
- Events can now easily be created and promoted within a Group. I spent hours last year creating events in the Old Groups (since I was the admin) but now this task is handled by any group member.
- Feature Boxes on the right column of a Groups page give easy access to Group events and docs.
- No more discussion threads. Some Old Groups used them heavily, but they are absent in the new style. New Groups are more focused on a constant stream of information and updates.
- Pictures are only available through the activity stream, but surprisingly not through an archive or feature box. Unless you go back through the activity stream, there’s no easy way to find pictures posted to the Group.
- Friends can add YOU to any group, without your permission. You can remove yourself after the fact, but you can’t (as of now) restrict friends from adding you to any number of random Groups.
Robert Scoble interviewed Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook. Listen to the interview on CinchCast. Some important points to come out of that conversation are that groups are designed to be self-selecting and self-regulating. Although you can be added to groups by friends, you can edit the noise that come to you from that group by turning off chat or notifications for the group.
Zuckerberg said that groups are meant to be small. Some of the features (like group chat) get turned off if the group gets larger than 250 members. There is no limit to the number of people who can be in a group.
Scoble asked about the fact that an email is required from you when creating a group. Zuckerberg said that email lists are indeed a feature of groups, along with the shared space, chat, event scheduling and docs. Docs is a new feature with a wiki-like document editor so that groups can work on shared documents together.
Kathy at Wired Pen took a look at the new groups and wrote First Thoughts on Facebook Groups. She found fault with the fact that if you turn down a friend's invitation to join a group once, you can never be invited to join any group by that friend again. She also didn't like that you had to sign your name when editing a group doc. Kathy does grant that it might be good for family discussions, and concludes,
Download your Data
I understand the desire to have tools be where friends and coworkers and family already are. But I resist being assimilated and reject the potential, what I think of as Zuck’s goal, which is for there to be only one place and one way to communicate with all those folks. It’s events like this one that underscore for me the fact that I use Facebook not because I want to but because I have to.
Another feature announced at the same time as new groups is download your data. This new feature was overshadowed by new groups, but is important to know about. Download your data will allow you download a zip file of everything you have on Facebook and store it yourself where you can control and own it.Resources for Using Groups
- How to Geet Started with Facebook's New Groups tells you how to start a group
- Facebook Groups and App Dashboard Provide New Privacy Features at Techlicious talks about the third of the Facebook announcements – App Dashboard
- Why Facebook's New Groups Will Change the Way You Use Facebook at ReadWriteWeb gets high-level philosophical about Groups and asks if it is the "tipping point" in how social media works.
- Mashable's live video of Facebook's announcement of new groups, download your data and the apps dashboard
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