Trying to find the best tool to get a bunch of people organised and sharing knowledge can be a pain. Google Groups can feel exceedingly complicated. Facebook cares little about your privacy. And if you're still using Yahoo Groups ... why? Instead of the Big Three, consider a service like Groups.io, a sensible, free platform that's incredibly easy to use.
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)
For a bit of background, Groups.io was founded by Mark Fletcher, who has a deep history of working with online collaboration services. He founded ONElist in 1998, which later became eGroups, which was then acquired by Yahoo and transformed into that which we now know as Yahoo Groups, first of its name and protector of the realm.
Fletcher left Yahoo after the acquisition, but he never gave up on groups, as he described in a 2014 blog post announcing the beta launch of Groups.io:
"Yahoo Groups and Google Groups both exude the dank air of benign neglect. Google Groups hasn't been updated in years, and some of Yahoo's recent changes have actually made Yahoo Groups worse! And yet, millions of people put up with this uncertainty and neglect, because email groups are still one of the best ways to communicate with groups of people. And I have a plan to make them even better."
So, what makes Groups.io great?
Groups.io doesn't cost anything*
For most people, setting up a simple online group on the service — which can contain as many members as you want — isn't going to cost you a penny. That makes Groups.io just as expensive as Yahoo Groups and Google Groups, and you get one added bonus as well: no advertising. Groups.io doesn't fill your browser full of crap, nor does it use any of your group's data to hit you up with personalised advertisements later.
*Groups.io is a freemium product, so you can pay extra for added features like more storage space for your group (beyond the free gigabyte you get), the ability to directly add new members without their approval, RSVP tracking for events, or a fully customised home page for your sprawling group. We don't mind — everyone's gotta make a living — since its free features are plenty comprehensive for most people.
For newbies, Groups.io is fairly user-friendly
Screenshot: David Murphy
If you have no idea what you're doing, managing a new online discussion group can feel a bit overwhelming. Groups.io has plenty of configuration options to go through, but the service does a good job with its onboarding. As soon as you make a new group, you get a helpful little welcome message that tells you a little bit about how groups work and points you to where you can start playing around with your group's configuration.
More importantly, all of your group's primary settings are located under one simple submenu: Settings. You aren't going to have to wade through countless sidebar menus, sections, and subheaders to ensure that everything in your group is tweaked to your liking. Just click on Settings. Adjust some options. Keep scrolling down. Once you hit the bottom of the Settings page, that's it. You're done.
A Groups.io group starts off with everything you need
Screenshot: David Murphy
Making a group on an online service is like making a dinner. Sometimes, you get a huge helping of the main course and you have to ask for a side dish or two. Sometimes you're told the kitchen is closed and meat is all that's on the menu. With Groups.io, you get a full meal whenever you start a new group.
By that, I mean that your brand-new group will come fully equipped with all the features you're probably going to need: a built-in chat service (in addition to your group's standard email-driven messages), hashtags for keeping group messages organised, a built-in calendar for displaying and managing group events, a handy dumping ground for files and photos, and even a built-in Wiki that you can use to provide more information about your group (or topics pertaining to your group's activities).
Power users get plenty of third-party tie-ins
Screenshot: David Murphy
If you want to have a little fun, Groups.io can team up with a number of other popular services to help you manage your group in even more clever ways. First, the basics: You can set up special "receive-only" email addresses for your group and Groups.io can automatically append a particular hashtag to messages sent to each email address, for easier organisation.
If you have a Facebook page that you've been using to keep track of a group or a project, you can set it up so that anything you post to that page is automatically posted to your group as well. The same is true for RSS feeds — any content coming up on a feed can be automatically dumped into your group — as well as Trello, which can ping your group with a post whenever there is new activity on one of your boards.
You can even integrate Groups.io with Github and receive a post whenever there's a new code commit on your project.
And if that's not enough, Groups.io syncs up with Slack. As long as person is a member of one entity — your Slack or Groups.io — they will be members of the other. And if that changes, they will be automatically removed at the next (hourly) synchronisation.
Migrating from Google or Yahoo is easy
If you're looking to make the switch from either platform, Groups.io has a fairly quick and automated way to dump your membership from a Google Group or a Yahoo Group and import it into Groups.io. The entire process takes about a day or so at most. For Yahoo Groups, Groups.io will also captures all of your group's messages — but not attachments — and import them into your new Groups.io group.