University-Only Groups Seek to Bring Back Facebook Exclusivity

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By Brittany Darwell Comment

Facebook is testing a form of its groups product that restricts access to users with a designated .edu email address, reminiscent of the way networks operated when Facebook began in 2004. Students are being prompted to create groups for different aspects of their college experience, whether its classes, dorms, intramural sports, student organizations or parties.

The test is limited to Brown and Vanderbilt universities because they provide different email addresses for students and alumni, according to a TechCrunch post by former Inside Facebook lead writer Josh Constine. This prevents former students from infiltrating the groups, as many early adopters did when Facebook first launched.

Facebook’s existing groups product allows users to create closed and secret groups, but the company must be interested in determining the demand for even more limited groups. University groups could be a start to a broader initiative to get more people familiar with Facebook’s offerings around small-group sharing, which has been an increasingly popular topic since the launch of Google+. Facebook’s updates to groupsfriend lists and privacy controls this year all promote the idea that Facebook is still a safe place to share information about yourself with your friends.

For the company whose mission is to “make the world more open and connected,” there is an ongoing question about how to balance public and private. One day they launch the subscribe feature to broadcast your status updates to a public audience. Another they bring back university-only groups. How Facebook optimizes for both openness and exclusivity in coming years will determine how much marketshare it can maintain as competing networks add new features and users.