Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Changes in Store for Facebook Groups

Anyone who says the days of Facebook Groups are over might want to check their inbox - chances are, they'll find at least a few emails from the last day or two with a subject line of "Someone-or-other updated the group Blah Blah."

So what's all that about? Right now, it looks like the tail end of Facebook's October '10 revamp of Groups functionality, when the social giant pretty much scrapped the old Groups format and replaced it with something that behaves sort of like a cross between a Facebook business page and an email listserv (remember those?). After the change, anyone who wanted to create a new Facebook presence for their club, carpool, PTA or what have you was forced to decide between creating a new-style group (with its dramatically different user experience) and a business page (more official, perhaps, but impossible to get an announcement or other message directly into members' inboxes - particularly after Facebook's Messages upgrade, which shuttles all business page updates into what's essentially a spam folder.) Frustratingly, there wasn't an option to upgrade old groups to the new format, resulting in what were essentially two (or three, if you count business pages) totally different methods of using Facebook to interact with small groups of people.

Despite the usual forum backlash after the Groups rework, Facebook continued to insist that the only way to convert an old-style group into a new group was to start from scratch, meaning admins had to earn all those group members back again. Until this week. Well, sort of. If you admin an old-style group on Facebook, and navigate to it, chances are you'll see something like this at the top of the page:

Great. Or is it? Here's the thing: Click on that "Learn more" link, and you'll see that some groups are eligible to be upgrade immediately, others are slated for automatic "archiving" and Facebook isn't exactly forthcoming about which are which. If you're in that former category (and you'll know you are because there'll be an upgrade link next to the "Learn more" callout), no sweat: click and you're done. You lose a few things - the ability to give admins titles, the "recent news" box and the info box under the group's profile pic, and the ability to affiliate with a network - but other than that, you're good. (Until you have to start explaining to all your group members how to actually use new groups, which can be a pain - particularly since group defaults mean each member gets email notification of every post on your group's wall. And you can't change that on their behalf; they've got to adjust their own notification settings. Will this mean a goodbye to heavy group Wall interaction - a gold standard for Facebook engagement? Watch this space.)

If you don't have the option to skip the archive process and immediately upgrade your group, here's where it gets tricky. No one's certain yet if all groups will receive that option in the future, or if some have simply been cherry-picked for the chance to change. Inside Facebook speculates that it might have something to do with some combination of group size, activity and maybe even age, but as with so many Facebook changes, no one really knows. And, as of now, there's no window for auto-archiving any more definite than "the next few months"; so if you admin an old-style group, it's probably worth keeping an eye on your page to see if/when you're invited to upgrade.

If you're not invited and Facebook automatically makes the switch for you, their help docs say, you're still preserved - except that you lose all your members and will have to re-add them. That's right; they're all gone. If your group is a small one, and all the members are your friends; this isn't such a huge issue; you can add your friends to a new-style group with the click of a mouse. If they're not your friends, you'll either need to rely on the good graces of mutual friends who are group members or contact those folks via some other means to get them to request admission to your group - because with new groups, even public ones still need someone from within the circle to approve a join request. With that in mind, if you're biding your time waiting for Facebook to give you the upgrade invite, you may want to make a list now of your current group members - and warn them that there might be some changes coming.

Do you admin any groups, and if so, were you given the option to immediately upgrade? Have you been getting a glut of notification emails in the last few days from groups that have made the switch?


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