Personal Technology Social Networks

First Thoughts On Facebook Groups

Sometime last night, I discovered that Robert Scoble had added me to a new group he’d formed on Facebook. “Cool,” I thought. And then I went to bed. I woke up to a choked inbox.

It was straightforward to change my Facebook filter to grab those emails, but the easier course of action was to change the group notification from the defaults to “no email.” Notifications still show in the FB interface.

My initial reaction, after poking around the site, was along the lines of “damnation!” That’s because I have tried to segment my use of Facebook and LinkedIn, with FB being for people I know and/or work with and LinkedIn — and Twitter — being for professional networking. In other words, I’ll connect with someone on LinkedIn or Twitter if we are both writers or educators, even if I haven’t met the person directly. But on FB, I’ve tried to keep the connections more “real” (FSDOR).

The new Facebook groups, if adopted for professional networking, could shatter that barrier. I do not like that. Nevertheless, in the spirit of experimentation I set about doing what Robert had suggested, which was inviting key people from my network. I did this unthinkingly — ie, I didn’t warn them. I did to them what Robert did to me. Then I read this, from Danny Sullivan, which he included as a “by the way” but which I think is incredibly important:

If a friend adds you to a group, and you remove your self from that group, that [friend] can’t add you back to that or ANY group in the future.

In other words, not only can you not change your mind about the value of a group, if you disagree with your friend once, that’s it. Kaput. Fini.

At that point I did the equivalent of a mass apology. I changed my FB status:

To my friends I added to Scoble’s Group: Please consider it an opportunity to be a guinea pig! Use the “Edit Notifications” button on the groups page to turn OFF email notifications! And Danny Sullivan has a warning: if you opt out of the group, then I can NEVER invite you to another group. Well, as long as “Never” is in Facebook.

Next, I tried editing a document with one of the group members. Lame. You have to sign your name!

Then I thought: is this Facebook’s response to Wave? An attempt to replace email and discussion groups and wikis and other collaboration tools? [I thought Wave was not-ready-for-prime-time when introduced but that it had great potential for small, task-oriented groups. I was sorry to see Google pull the plug. Thanks to Chris Pirillo, I use a lot, which is kinda Wave-light.]

I’ve subsequently read thoughtful analyses of Facebook’s New Groups. (Will it be like New Coke?) These objections are predictable, but that doesn’t make them any less valid:

  • Automatic add versus opt-in. This is the most egregious feature of Facebook Groups. Someone should not be able to add me to a group without my agreeing to be a member. Laura Fitton said it best on Twitter: “Did Facebook simply “forget” 15 years of email list best practices? ie, email lists should be opt in, not opt out?”
  • A friend of my friend may not be my friend. In other words, the fact that “anyone can add a friend to the group” may be unwieldy for lots of reasons; and reportedly there is no way to change this. Irene Koehler explains the downsides, which is why this structure will not used for groups that need to truly be closed, even if everyone is on FB.
  • You can’t delete a post. Or edit it after it goes live. The second complaint is one I’ve had for-ever, but to not be able to delete, when it’s possible to delete a wall post?

I disagree with those who claim this is a replacement for Twitter. You don’t see people’s status updates in groups and group updates don’t go on your personal wall. They don’t go on the public web, either, if the group is private. There’s no easy way to search groups (think back to the last time you tried to find anything on Facebook using FB search). No way to read groups other than through FB interface. No way to post except through FB interface. Ugh.

Nor do I think this is a viable replacement for email lists. It’s worse than web-based discussion boards: messages aren’t collapsed, you can’t sort by date or person. For group discussion, give me mailing lists + gmail. I’m not a huge fan of Google Groups or LinkedIn Groups.

I’m waiting to see the use case for which this tool was designed. Family discussions. Maybe.

I understand the desire to have tools be where friends and coworkers and family already are. But I resist being assimilated and reject the potential, what I think of as Zuck’s goal, which is for there to be only one place and one way to communicate with all those folks. It’s events like this one that underscore for me the fact that I use Facebook not because I want to but because I have to.

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

One reply on “First Thoughts On Facebook Groups”

You’ve just missed the lesson us Linux geeks have been trying to teach people for years: You do not HAVE to conform to the Dominant Paradigm, whether it belongs to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Suckerberg[sic], or anyone else! You’ve sort of already discovered this, in that you already use WordPress… but you haven’t *grokked* the lesson yet.

The other WordPress bloggers I follow – John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, etc. are all doing just FINE without using Facebook as a primary source of social networking.

I think the fallacy here is the idea that it is important to get your idea to EVERYONE. It’s not. It is important to get your idea to the people who can and will do something about it. Unless you’re selling pop.. music, soda, or gossip… your audience is not on Facebook. (Oh, sure, they might have an account, but that’s not their primary hangout.) Anything YOU, my college-educating friend, might come up with is perfectly fine on a URL of its own; your audience is going to be savvy enough to actually make with a clicky rather than typing in Zuck’s search bar.

I do think *Twitter* is part of the future, if they don’t spoil it. Facebook is the AOL of the 21st century. Twitter… is something entirely new.

Something to explore: On your sites, you can have a plugin that makes short URLs for Twitter *in your own domain*. I think this is a great branding thingy….

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