So there's been a lot of buzz about the new Groups for Schools feature that Facebook just announced yesterday. Many have dubbed it as Facebook's attempts to reconnect with its roots, the college student population.
We figured we'd offer our own brief analysis of how these groups seem to differ from your "run-of-the-mill" groups on Facebook. As with anything on Facebook, this is what we've noticed about the Groups for Schools feature as of 9am on April 13, 2012. It's possible, if not highly likely, that Groups for Schools will undergo changes in the next few months, if not the next few weeks.
Groups for Schools Structure
So the new Groups for Schools has a two-tiered structure. There is the umbrella group that you can join after validating your .edu e-mail address for the school. Once you've joined you can then join individual groups under this umbrella group (e.g., for clubs, Class of 20XX, etc.). The umbrella group isn't a group in the traditional Facebook sense. There's no wall for the umbrella group. It's basically a directory for the individual groups within it.
A Re-Introduction of Network-Like Capabilities
In our opinion, the new Groups for Schools feature seems a bit like a re-introduction of the old Networks functionality (which Facebook phased out a little while back) on top of the existing group structure. Through the Groups for Schools, you now have improved access on Facebook to people that are part of your school (e.g., according to Facebook's Help center, "You can message any confirmed member of your school community without being friends first.").
No Institutional Control for Your College or University
When we've talked with schools that had early access, it doesn't sound like there's any special administrative capabilities / privileges for the schools themselves, and nothing in the documents would indicate this. There's even a disclaimer on the About page (Note: Facebook Groups at _______ is not affiliated with or endorsed by ________.)
Differences Between Groups for Schools and traditional Facebook Groups
For the most part, Groups for Schools seem to work in a similar fashion to traditional Facebook groups, with a few extra wrinkles:
1. Membership Limited to .EDU E-mail Account Holders
You can only join a Group for School if you've already validated your school e-mail address and joined the umbrella group. This may offer an extra level of security, but it can also be a limiting factor (e.g., if an organization encompasses not only current students but alumni, those alumni need to have .edu e-mail accounts to access the group).
2. File Uploads
Group members can upload files up to 25MB to share with the group (I assume Facebook has things like course notes in mind for this feature). Facebook claims that sharing of copyrighted material like mp3 music files will be prevented via internal checks.
It seems to offer a more granular chat capability than traditional groups. You can target your message/chat to specific members of the group and you don't have to be friends with those group members. In a traditional group, your options are to post on the wall or to join a group-wide chat.
4. Browse Capabilities
If anything, this seems like the biggest differentiator for setting up a Group for Schools instead of a regular Facebook group. It will likely be easier for people to serendipitously discover a Group for Schools. For regular groups, you pretty much have to actively search for a group (or notice it because a friend joined it). You have to know it exists or have a sense of what it would be named if it did exist (e.g., I just got admitted and I do a search for a "University of ____ Class of 20XX" group). When you visit the main Groups for Schools page for your university, you can browse through groups. It opens up the possibility of stumbling across a random group centered around a campus organization, a hobby, or some other connective attribute that might interest you.
5. Adding Non-Friends to a Group
With traditional groups, you can only add your own friends to a group. With a Group for Schools, you can add your friends (they have to have an .edu e-mail to actually join, though) AND anyone who has already joined the umbrella group for the entire school. Personally, this feature seems a little odd. Do I want people I may not know adding me to a group? Couldn't they just message me with a link to the group? Ok, that may be our own personal biases creeping through.
We strongly encourage you to check out the post by Ma'ayan Plaut from Oberlin. They are one of the campuses to receive Groups for Schools ahead of the public roll-out:
For those of you with a developer's bent, there currently are no public hooks for these groups in the Graph API. We asked Facebook about this when it was still in the pilot phase and they responded that they'll be built once the product is decently "baked". With the speed at which Facebook moves, we imagine that won't be too long.