Facebook Announces Group Email Lists, Group Chat, and a Group API

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By Josh Constine

Facebook has designed a new product, Groups, for helping users communicate, organize, and share with an explicit group of friends. The product won’t replace friend lists, something only used by “5% of users,” nor the existing form of Groups. “We wanted to design something so simple that everyone on the site would interact with it” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Users can create a Group, add friends, send them email updates, group chat with all group members simultaneously, or collaboratively edit documents. Each Group represents a space amongst a set of friends. Groups are built into the news feed composer as optional distribution parameters. They’re part of the Open Graph, so users can  go to any website and have all the activity of their friends broken down by Groups, and will also be accessible through m.facebook.com.

A user’s most frequently used Groups will float to the top of their bookmarks on the left navigation sidebar on the Facebook home page. Users may to ten or twenty Groups, but the bookmark system will help you keep track of your main ones and mitigate information overload.

Groups will have three privacy visibility settings: open, closed, and secret. Open will allow everyone to see the name of the Group, the members, and the Groups content. Closed will show everyone the Group’s name and members, but not its content. Secret only allows Group members to see the Group’s name, members, or content.

A main feature of Groups is the ability to control the distribution of messages. By creating and distributing within a family Group, users can be comfortable asking their little sister how an exam went knowing only other family members were the only friends able to see that message.

Group Chat was added due to popular demand from the user base. It will work just like one on one chat, but with multiple people able to send messages to everyone in the Chat. Group Docs, similar to existing wiki services on the web, lets members collaborate to build a text document, such as a shopping list or menu. The Groups Open Graph API will be a read and write system for developers to build on top of Groups.

Each Group is controlled by the entirety of its members. Any member can add friends, and those outside the Group can request admission. When a member is added, a story will be generated within the Group stating “[Existing Group member] added [new Group member].” This promotes responsible behavior since the Group will always be aware of member actions. Groups are primarily designed for sets of 25, 50, or 100 friends. As Groups grow larger than this, certain especially noisy functionality will be turned off so they can scale gracefully. For instance, Group Chat will be disabled as Groups cross the 250 member threshold. Anyone  can easily leave a Group, or mute it using the notification settings.

Facebook’s Groups feature has the potential to significantly change how we use Facebook. By offering greater control over exactly who users share with, they’re likely to share more, but with less people. The question remains whether users will still share with all of the friends, or predominantly micro-share to certain Groups.