Facebook's groups adds context for users

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Think about your Facebook friends list. How many of them are your actual friends? It might seem like a minor shift with Facebook groups --- but it's not.

Groups create new online spaces on Facebook for conversations you have with various groups of people in your life. They form several social networks within a social network.

The idea of compartmentalizing connections is not unique. What jumped in my mind during the Facebook presentation Wednesday was a recent slide show that made its way around the social media community. Paul Adams, Google's senior user experience leader, posted a public slide show about "the real life social network" three months ago, and it identified the same problem -- a user's social groups that don't interact in real life are often put in a one-size-fits-all social network.

After exploring the feature, here are things that work and things that don't for groups. Groups is a great feature for teams, organizations, family, companies and mutual friends. If you had a kickball team, for example, you could post a status discussing locations, link directions to a field and create an event for the next game. A schedule could be created in the document feature and could be edited by all team members.

I also anticipate that students or small companies or professional groups will use group chat and the document feature to collaborate. I've used TypeWith.me Web documents to collaborate with others across the country on a project. It has a chat feature on the side and a document that can be edited by anyone viewing the page. Groups has the same features. Facebook group's content is by default private, which would give added privacy, and it's already connected to a platform that has notifications even those less tech savvy could use.

Groups will not work for everything, such as trying to create a group of your friends who don't have anything in common but you. I anticipate some will misuse it because anyone can add you to a group. Also, there will likely be a problem with noise from particularly active groups because a new post means a notification. Those who belong to a group will have to adjust their notification settings for it to not be an annoyance in those cases.

During the rather lengthy explanation given at the Facebook announcement about how they arrived at the groups solution, CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned lists as being an initial and "naïve" solution to the problem -- and only 5 percent of users used the feature. Used with groups, I think they're effective as filters to see who you want to see and set privacy settings for Facebook friends. The combination of lists (which will stay) and groups will add context to the user experience -- lists are individually useful and groups are socially useful.

On the "needs improvement" list for groups is the mobile app functionality. Though groups are already accessible on the mobile site, the text on notifications for BlackBerry is squished together, though it's clearly labeled that the content is from a group. Unlike lists, which could not be shared, groups are immediately shared, which will likely lead to quick adaptation.

Will you use groups? How?

Interact on Twitter @SarahDayOwen.


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