The New Facebook Groups: All You Need To Know

Facebook Groups IconToday Facebook announced a revamped group products as covered during our live coverage. However most people are either still not aware about what this means or unaware of what all the features are. This guide will answer all of your questions.

What’s Different About The New Facebook Groups?

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Facebook has completely revamped their groups product. Previously, Facebook groups were a less integral component of Facebook. The new groups has a number of new features and is completely redesigned. The primary idea behind Facebook groups is that it’s a form of ongoing collaboration product. If you want to have a simple way to communicate with your family members, you can use the groups product. Ultimately there are countless purposes for creating groups.

The main purpose of groups is to help Facebook users socialize around any topic or community. You can watch Facebook’s own video below which provides a brief 2 minute overview of the product.

How Do Groups Compare With Pages?

At this point, as it applies to brands, Facebook groups should no longer be used by brands. While I’m sure there are organizations that will attempt to create public groups for socializing around their products (and users that will create similar groups), all brand-related conversations should remain on Facebook Pages as far as Facebook’s concerned. While there are some additional features in groups that many page administrators would like (such as group chat), Pages are going to remain as-is for the immediate future.

My guess is that Facebook will still continue to have some issues with making the distinction between groups and pages as websites could theoretically implement groups just as well as Facebook Pages. For example I have an AllFacebook.com page, but does that page define our community or should we have an AllFacebook.com community group for that?

How Do Groups Impact Friend Lists?

As articulated by Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Cox at Facebook’s announcement of the groups product this morning, groups are, in the company’s opinion, a more effective representation of the groups of our life that we interact with. For example, we could set up a group for our family, and then based on how often we interact with our family group, Facebook would theoretically be able to determine how important family is to us. Alternatively, you could create a group called “Class of 2010″ for your high school and then you’ll be affiliated with that group.

In the abstract, Facebook is letting users define their own groups and based on your level of interaction with that group, Facebook could theoretically determine how strong that relationship is over time. While it’s not yet a feature, Facebook could theoretically let you filter through your friends based on the groups that they are members of. Rather than letting users define affiliation groups (as defined by their “Friend Lists”, a feature that Facebook is slowly reducing the importance of if not eventually phasing out completely), why not provide them legitimate groups that they can join or leave?

An Integral Component Of Facebook

Groups Sidebar ScreenshotThat’s exactly what the new Facebook Groups accomplishes: a more structured way of defining our affiliation groups or our personal social networks. Groups help define who you are on Facebook, socially. While people used to just join any group they were invited to, Facebook’s promotion of groups to the sidebar will make users more conscious of the groups they are members of.

Less Emphasis On The Administrator

In the past, being the owner of a group was a powerful position because you could message the members. Now, all updates to a group generate notifications and result in emails to members (if they haven’t opted out of the messages). This is a substantial improvement in that all the members of the group have control over that group, except in the case of closed groups where the administrator must approve all members.

What Are The Various Features Of The New Facebook Groups?

If you’ve been on Facebook for a while, there’s no doubt that at some point you interacted with the old Facebook Groups product. There were benefits as well as a lot of lacking features from the old Facebook Groups product. However, there are a number of features that should hopefully make the new groups product a more integral component of the overal Facebook experience.

Group Notifications

One of the most significant features that Facebook groups used to have was the ability for administrators to message members of the group directly. Now Facebook has made it so that all messages (or any other objects) posted to the wall in within groups will generate notifications. These notifications drive users back to the group, however users can also opt-out of these notifications by clicking on the “Edit Notifications” as highlighted in the first image below.

Edit Notifications

Group Chat

Group chat is probably one of the most significant features of the new Facebook Groups product. All members of a group have the ability to engage in a single chat window. The one downside of this is that it group chat rooms can become pretty noisy. This is a major upgrade however in that Facebook now has “chat rooms”, something that the classic AOL was infamous more. Don’t call it that though! The primary difference between a traditional chat system and the Facebook group chat system is that unless your group is “Secret” (and undiscoverable in search), your real identity is being used.

In AOL Chat, IRC, and other open chat platforms, users would use their aliases as a way to mask their real identity. According to some developers who were chatting during the announcement, it appears as though there is an unofficial limit of 250 people in a chat room at any given point, although we’ve yet to confirm that.

Facebook Group Chat Screenshot

Docs

One other feature of Facebook’s new groups product is the ability to post “Docs”: basic text documents with a minor amount of markup available (bold, italics, and lists). Documents also have a revision history which users can navigate back through. While this is no Google Docs product in terms of robustness, it’s definitely a useful feature.

Facebook Docs Screenshot

What Does This Mean For Developers?

In the abstract, Facebook Groups are essentially the “ningification” (please excuse that word … it’s a reference to Ning.com) of Facebook. Users on Facebook are now defined by the groups they are members of. While Facebook Pages are useful for defining our commercial affiliations, Facebook Groups help define who we are socially. As part of that concept, Facebook has turned Facebook Groups into a Platform of its own. The company has added a few graph API elements but has suggested that there will even be the ability to extend features of groups and the design.

For the time being, Facebook groups are simply another object in the graph that developers can access. Accessing a group object via the Facebook Graph API will return the following values: id, owner, name, description, link, venue, privacy (the visibility of the group), and updated_time. Developers can also access the following group objects: feed, members, and pictures. In addition to reading group data, Facebook developers can also enable users to publish to groups from their applications using the methods defined here.

While Facebook will add additional components of the Facebook Groups product that developers can interact with, this is the first iteration of the product.

What Happened To Old Groups

I’ve reached out to Facebook to find out what will happen to old groups. So far the only response I’ve received is that, “We will continue to support existing Groups.” What isn’t quite clear is whether or not old groups will be able to be moved to the new groups product. This could clearly inconvenience some people who have taken the time to create groups. For example, I’m currently the member of a group dedicated to my high school graduating class, however that group uses the old groups product.

For the time being it isn’t clear what Facebook is going to do with the old groups except “continue to support” them. We’ll be sure to post an update if that changes at any point in the future.

Groups Have Become An Integral Component Of Facebook

If my previous statements weren’t clear enough, Facebook groups are now an integral component of the entire Facebook experience. Between group chat, docs, and an eventual groups developer platform, Facebook is aiming to become a more significant communications and collaboration platform. While I’m not quite sure that companies will jump on board to make Facebook Groups their central collaboration tool given the lack of customer support, there’s no doubt that smaller organizations could find the new groups product to be extremely useful.

If we missed anything in this guide, feel free to ask any questions below and we’ll be sure to updated it!

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