Facebook announced a new groups for schools feature that enables users with active school email addresses join online communities related to their college or university.
Groups for schools differ from Facebook’s other groups in that they can be exclusive to students and that members can share documents with each other. The company seems to position these groups as a utility for coordinating schedules, sharing lecture notes and messaging classmates. But university-specific groups might also increase engagement among college users who don’t feel comfortable using the social network the way students did before their teachers, parents and bosses joined.
Not all schools are eligible for groups yet. Users can check the groups for schools page or wait to see a message appear on the left side of their home page when the feature is available to them. Once users join their school community, they are able to create subgroups for individual classes, study groups, clubs, teams, dorms or friends. Users can join groups for multiple schools as long as they have an active email address for each. This is necessary for study abroad or transfer students.
On group pages there will be a tab for files. Users can share non-copyrighted documents and other files with members of a school group. Anyone in a school group can upload and download files within that group. When users upload a revised version of a file, the previous version of the file remains available. Users can also message any confirmed member of their school community without being friends first.
Facebook began testing school-specific groups in December 2011, among Brown and Vanderbilt students. At the time we wondered whether university groups would be a start to a broader initiative to get more people familiar with Facebook’s offerings around small-group sharing. Since then the social network has redesigned groups a few times and given events more group-like functionality.
The way groups for schools restrict access to users with a designated .edu email address is reminiscent of the way networks operated when Facebook began in 2004. File sharing is another former feature from the social network’s college-only days. Founder Mark Zuckerberg built a peer-to-peer file sharing application called Wirehog on top of the social network, but then-Facebook president Sean Parker encouraged him to shut it down to avoid copyright infringement issues. File sharing would be a useful feature for other non-school groups, but preventing illegal media sharing would certainly be difficult.