Facebook launched a new Groups app for mobile yesterday, to the confusion of many. While a lot of people may have forgotten all about groups, they're actually one of the best tools Facebook has for keeping up with your friends. Plus, they're way more personal than the News Feed
Groups Offer More Control Than News Feed (or Lists)
Facebook is supposed to keep you connected with the people who are important to you. The News Feed isn't great at it though. While you can tweak it to remove clutter, Facebook will never show you everything. In fact, you may only see a small fraction of the posts that people share. You might see everything from one or two friends, but you're bound to miss some stuff -- and the more they bury that "Most Recent" view, the more difficult it becomes.
Groups don't work this way. The order of posts tends to be based on activity, but if you scroll enough, you'll see everything. Nothing is hidden unless someone blocks you. You can also search for a specific post in a group with keywords. While Facebook announced this ability for regular posts, it doesn't seem to be active anymore. In any case, it's much easier to find posts within a group, or to make sure that the intended recipients see it.
Some people may prefer lists for sharing things with a certain group of people. However, this method only determines who is allowed to see a post. Not who will see it (again, due to the News Feed). By posting within a group, anyone who goes to that group page will see all posts from everyone. In general, groups allow you better control over sharing just with the people you want to interact with, rather than the ones Facebook thinks you should interact with.
Groups Allow Specialised Interests
If I had my way, I'd post about Marvel comics and Android news all day long. But most of the people I'm friends with on Facebook don't care (or don't want spoilers!). Groups allow like-minded people to share content with a targeted, willing audience -- and lots of it. Because group content doesn't show up in the News Feed of non-members, you don't have to worry about annoying people with stuff they don't care about. You also guarantee that interested parties will see these posts -- which again, the News Feed can never guarantee.
The flip side of this is that you can discover content you might not have seen otherwise. Your friends share things, too. If they have a place where they can post stuff with people they know are interested, they may be more likely to open up. It may take a bit of time or effort to get participation going, but chances are you've got some enthusiastic friends who would love to join in a more niche group given the chance.
Don't Be Afraid to Make Plenty of Groups
When Whitson talked about how he was using Evernote all wrong, he suggested being generous with making notebooks. The same strategy works for Facebook groups. Make one for your Friday night movie crew, your bowling team (people still do that right?), or just for you and your significant other. You don't need an official organisation title or anything. Just a group of people that have something in common.
The best part is, unless you actually do something with them, groups don't get in the way. For example, I'm currently in two separate groups where we're planning things that won't happen until next year. They are nearly invisible and I don't touch them at all right now. I only see them when I get a notification. You can tag a group as a favourite if you need it frequently, which will bump it out of the giant list, but the rest just sit quietly in the Groups section of the sidebar.
Expand a Group's Usefulness with Extra Features
Groups aren't just private rooms with their own news feeds. There are special features built into groups that make them more useful than the rest of Facebook. You may not need all of these all the time, but if you're trying to make plans with a group of people, they're indispensable:
- Files: Groups have a separate tab for shared files. They're not quite as robust as something like Google Docs, but they can safely be stored in one place for everyone in the group to find without having to invite every new group member. You can create a basic document with Facebook's editor that includes simple formatting (handy for things like grocery lists or important contact info), or upload your own files. File size limit is 25MB, but it's enough if you need to share something like a spreadsheet or PDF.
- Events: Technically, you can create events without forming a group, but using a group means the guest list is already set. If you have a group of friends you routinely hang out with (weekly game night, for example), making a group to discuss and schedule plans makes tons of sense.
- Polls: For some reason, Polls don't seem to be accessible outside of groups, but they're quite handy. You can query a group on everything from where they'd like to eat to their thoughts on the President's choice of tie that day. Members can vote for their choices or add their own (if you allow it).
It won't take the place of proper project management software, but for things like planning that barbecue, organising a road trip or sorting a group of gamers, it's really handy. For example, one group I'm in has a shared doc of Steam, Battle.net and Xbox Live usernames. Anyone who joins has access to them and no one needs to be manually added.