Yesterday, Facebook rolled out a makeover for their Group functionality. It's a pretty major shift for Groups, seeming to emphasize small, more personal collections of individuals rather than large, more anonymous groups. This intent was made clear in Facebook's blog:
"[Groups are] a simple way to stay up to date with small groups of your friends and to share things with only them in a private space."
I'm still trying to wrap my head around whether this will have a positive or negative impact on colleges' Class of 20XX Groups for incoming freshmen, but I figured I'd share my thoughts.
It seems natural to start with what is probably the most powerful new feature. The new group chat functionality looks like it could be a great tool for admitted students to take advantage of. It offers the potential of real-time interaction with future classmates, a really positive way for these admits to form stronger bonds with each other. Another nice twist is that group members don't have to be Facebook friends to chat with each other.
Potential Spoiler: While there has been no official word from Facebook, some blogs have reported that chat functionality may go away for Groups with more than 250 members.
Powerful E-mail List
The new Groups might be best viewed as the next generation of e-mail lists. By default, a Group will send all its members an e-mail every time someone posts. Previously, the Group admins were the only ones that could trigger messages to every member. Moreover, you can give the Group an e-mail address so that you can share new posts via e-mail without coming back to Facebook.
I'm not sure if this functionality is a blessing or a curse for Class of 20XX Groups.
For a small personal Group (like a family, a close-knit collection of friends, study groups), this could be a great replacement for e-mail blasts to share photos, to update classmates about assignments, or to coordinate plans for a future trip, for example. However, will your admits find it overwhelming for an active Class of 20XX with several hundred, maybe even more than a thousand, members? This also gives Group spammers more potential to be disruptive in large Class of 20XX groups.
Group notifications are a setting that can be changed by Group members. They can choose not to receive e-mails and even limit which notifications they receive to the following triggers:
- A member posts or comments
- A member posts
- A friend posts
- Never notify me
Admin Features Limited
Admins are not able to customize Groups like they were before. You can't control what functionality is available (e.g., enabling or disabling videos or photos, limiting who could post photos, links, or videos). As I mentioned before, you are no longer the only person that can message the entire group.
Approving Group Members
One shift that I think will make managing large Class of 20XX Groups more challenging is that all Group members must be approved by an admin. Until approved, they cannot post or comment in the Group. Previously, you could set a Group as open, allowing anybody to join without approval.
If I'm an admitted student or a counselor on the road, is approving every member going to be an onerous task?
There will be no indication on your Facebook profile of which Groups you are a member. Additionally, when you join a Group, it will not show up in the news stream of your Facebook friends. I could see this being a big benefit among graduate students, who may not want to let their work friends know they are applying.
Old Facebook Groups
Existing Groups will continue to function like they always have. Currently, there is no way to shift old Facebook Groups to the new Group system.
The Future of Colleges' Class of 20XX Groups
Does Facebook's new Group feature signal the end of Class of 20XX at colleges and universities? Probably not. The Group chat functionality is a pretty compelling new feature that could really help future students get to know each other. However, Facebook's new Groups do seem to be intended for smaller groups where most of the members know each other. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out for the Class of 2015.