Friday, 8 October 2010

What Facebook’s new groups feature means for media

In a press conference at Facebook HQ today, the social media giant unveiled a new feature (that’s just beginning to roll out) that allows people to create groups of friends. By creating a group, you can invite people, limit sharing to a group, open a group chat, and even group-edit documents with wiki-like collaboration.

Groups are different than pages in that they’re designed for small groups of up to 250 people or so — and can be set as “secret” if desired — and email will play a central role in alerting group members to shared content. (You can even create a “vanity” group email address.) So in other words, they’re not really recommended as a place for media companies to build audiences, but a place for friends to connect in new ways.

Facebook says it’s a “new organizing principle for the social graph,” as a way to create more relevant connections between family, classmates, co-workers and teammates, for example. Founder Mark Zuckerberg said the new groups functionality “blows away” Yahoo Groups, Google Groups and other group providers, and “is a pretty big step forward.”

So what does it mean for journalists and the media? It strengthens Facebook’s grip on community, adding new types of social connections that will likely encourage people to use the platform in new ways: organizing with co-workers, creating “mom” groups that have historically lived in email, keeping tabs with neighbors, and on and on. In many ways, it makes Facebook more constructive. You could imagine it attracting people who are overwhelmed (or never have time) to parse their news feeds, but may want to participate in a couple groups, mostly through email, without even looking at their news feed.

A functional Facebook? That begins to sound a little like what journalism should have become — the home for a constructive community. But Facebook has become the de facto home of the community, and news sites will be able to integrate aspects of it via the API — which will include the new groups feature.

Update: Whoa! The new feature kicks out a LOT of email. Many folks woke up this morning to find their email inboxes jammed full of messages after they were added to one or more groups. (Each message posted to a group sends an email.) You can change this in settings, or set up a filter on your inbox.


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