Thursday, January 20, 2011

Early review of changes to Google Groups

The old Google Groups is dead. Long live the new Google Groups?

In November I wrote about upcoming changes to Google Groups that, it seemed to me, signaled Google's next moves in social-media space. Those changes have arrived, as of last week.

Google Groups no longer permits upload of files or pages. One can view preexisting files and pages, and the last "welcome message" at the top of the old-style home page as it was published prior to the Jan 13th changeover date. But no new pages, files, or edits to the "welcome message" are permitted. This is precisely as the Googleplex forewarned.

But the new discussion forum interface permits inclusion and update of a welcome message -- not a feature that I understood to be in the pipeline -- and files can be attached to any post in a forum discussion thread (this feature can be restricted to managers-only).

Posting files in discussion threads is a double-edged sword. In many forums (including the one I am active in) most participants elect to receive updates to discussions via e-mail. For many, receiving large attachments is unwelcome ... smaller e-mails in which links are given to files that can be downloaded when and where needed don't eat up as much local disk space or webmail storage quota. It's possible to avoid this problem by engaging with a forum only through visits to its website, but for those who prefer e-mail notifications and don't like receiving attachments this feature may prove annoying.

One of my chief complaints in November was that Google Sites didn't have a supported gadget to embed a Groups forum in one of its pages. Setting up a Google Site to host a Group's web pages -- and to serve as a location to which files may be uploaded -- is one reasonably clean way to replace functionality that is unavailable in Google Groups as of last week. I hoped to use that option for my Google Group, but without a supported gadget the option was pretty much a non-starter.

The good news is that Google now provides a Sites integration gadget.

As I mentioned in a comment on the original post, Jiten Bhardwaj was first in a thread I started in the Google Sites forum to point out the new, embeddable Groups widget rolled out for Google Sites. For info on how to use it, check out the new Groups UI help article on the topic.

Also noted in a comment on my original post, the new UI for Google Groups includes elements that do seem designed to support the Groups offering's alignment with Google's social-media strategies, such as "lightweight comments." These are tweet-sized riffs that can be added to any regular post to a Discussion Forum; however this feature only works for groups that conduct all business in the Groups interface (e.g., that have e-mail delivery disabled). The new Groups UI is explained in a set of Help articles for those who want more info.

My on-line writer's group has been using the new interface embedded in our Google Site for several weeks now, and I have no serious complaints.

On the other hand, I do wish it were easier to extract a thread from the Google Groups forums. Data portability matters, even if all that means is an ability to easily download a post or a whole thread for preservation or re-use elsewhere. For example, I like to keep sometimes-long threads of my fellow writers' comments on a story or chapter for future reference without wading through our group's archives, or so I can consult it off-line. Copy paste will do in a pinch, but something cleaner would be a nice feature.

It's worth remarking that in the Getting Started screen for the new UI, the Googleplex warns that "The new Google Groups user interface represents the first in a series of updates to Google Groups..."

So we'll see where this offering goes....


  1. New Google Groups is crap! Crap layout, not intuitive, and a step backwards. The original works. Why change it?

  2. It's awful and not up to simple tasks. Lost posts, normal posts treated as spam, content disappears for no reason, uploads break. Just use something else, not worth trying.