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Oct082010

New Facebook Groups: Thumbs Down

So, after a few hours of looking at the new Facebook Groups, I am really underwhelmed.  There are lots of reasons, but there's one very simple overriding one:

Why aren't Groups, Pages and Friend Lists the same thing?

For a couple of years now, whenever I add a friend, I religiously categorize them into a friend list or two.  I've done this on the belief that someday Facebook would get its act together and make friend lists actually useful.  To date, this hasn't paid off.  Now I've lost faith that it ever will.

Groups, Friend Lists and (to a lesser extent) Pages, are all ways of accomplishing the same goals

  1. Filter my view 
  2. Parameterize my actions 

Filtering

To date, I have never found a way to use a friend list as a filter on my newsfeed or wall.  With a group, I can go to the group page, but then I see all the entries from everyone in the group.  If I'm in "catch up with high school friends" mode, then I want to see my high school friends, not all the schmoes who went to my high school.  As someone who uses facebook for some work relationships as well (being in social media and software etc) I really don't want to intermix the entries from high school buddies and work colleagues.

So, right now, Facebook makes me choose, ahead of time, irrevocably, whether I would rather consume all of the feeds from everyone in a Group, or not have the filtering at all.  Yikes.

Action Scoping

A natural desire on Facebook is to take any action within a scope - in English that means that I want to be able to post a new status "What's on your mind" to only my high school friends or co-workers.  With the current setup, I can not do that.  I can only choose friends, or everyone.  If I want to do that, I have to send a message to everyone on my friend list, in which case it isn't a post, it is a message.

Facebook seems to arbitrarily decide for me which features I want in which contexts, and it ends up being very very difficult to use.  So difficult that I find myself saying I'll either join a big amorphous group, or just keep my mailing lists outside of Facebook.

If either Groups or Friend Lists were available as part of the social graph to applications and to Facebook connected sites, Facebook would have done a great service here.  As it is, I think they've added complexity, by upsetting the unhappy equilibrum we had already come to between Pages, Lists and Groups.

New Groups are not Old Groups made better

According to Facebook (from their help center), the new Groups model is:

... optimized for small groups of people; broader movements around public affiliations and causes are better suited for Facebook Pages

And this is the justification for

Currently you cannot convert an old group into the new group design.

So, if you had previously invested in the friend lists, New Groups doesn't leverage that investment at all.  If you had previously invested in Groups, New Groups doesn't take you forward.  Yikes!

This is another example of Facebook changing things - perhaps for good reason - but not delivering on the rationale and migration path, and thereby leaving the users, and the third parties in the dust.

If Facebook wanted to really fix Groups, why didn't they sit back, refactor all of the "groupy" objects in Facebook, and really solve the problem?  That's big, I know, but I suspect that they've really missed a chance to own the aggregation model for the social graph, which is a huge opportunity.

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