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By Thomas Baekdal - October 2010

Facebook's New Groups and the Smokescreen

Yesterday, Facebook had one their press events, and biggest news where download your profile and new redesigned Groups. You can watch the whole thing here.

Download your info

Facebook will now allow you to download everything in your profile, your wall posts, images, videos - everything. It is a great feature that was long overdue.

What you still cannot do is to give external sources access to your raw data. But I am sure, that 3rd party service will quickly find ways around that (which @gautch also pointed out to me last night).

We don't have portability, but you can download it. That's a big plus.

Facebook Groups

The other big announcement is the redesigned Facebook Groups.

Mark Zuckerberg introduced the new groups feature as a way to only post relevant information to certain groups of friends.

We all have the problem that posting to everyone isn't really what we want. We have different types of friends. Some are family, some or people we work with, and some or people we share interest with etc.

Wouldn't it be great if you could both target and limit wall posts to only a specific group of friends, instead sharing everything with everyone?

Note: Illustration from Google's presentation "The Real Life Social Network."

This is what Facebook is trying to do with groups. Except it doesn't work they way you think. It's not personal sharing from you, it is you sharing to a group. Big difference.


Let me explain what Facebook has actually done. The new Facebook Groups is a completely separate place that acts just a forum. It's not part of your profile, your wall, or your identity. It's a separate place you and your friends can go to, and share things among you.

Still confused?

Okay, Let's try it this way. You know Park(ing) Day? It is a great social event that happens every September all the over the world. The idea is to turn ordinary parking spots into parks for just one day - to create a place to hang out and have fun with people around you.

Note: More pictures from Park(ing) Day over at Flickr.

It is a great idea, and truly social event. And, this is exactly what Facebook is trying to do with Facebook groups.

They want you to create shared social spaces, where you and a select group of friends can hang out together. E.g. you can create a shared "park" for just your sports friends, one just for your family etc.

The problem is that you, and your friends, have to leave your homes (your profile). It's not sharing from you, it's you and your friends all going out to another place. And that is a big difference.

All of us want to have a home. It is fun to share a park(ing) place for day, but it is not a place you want to live in.

You want your home, your individuality, and who you are to be the "base camp." And then, you want to extend that home to a select group of friends under specific circumstances.

Facebook Groups is not about sharing parts of your wall with a select group of friends. It is a separate place, away from your profile, that you and your friends can have together - just a like a good old forum or a shared blog.

There are many reasons why a shared space could be a great idea. If you are part of a sports team, then it makes a lot of sense to create a forum where every member can discuss and share things about the team. A forum that isn't about the individual, but about the team as whole.

However, while discussing Groups with @marismith last night, she made a very good point. Why not just use Facebook Pages for groups conversations?

They provide you with a lot more power, it's a much better stream, more focused, can be extended with FB apps, you can create your own. Combine the conversation with a lot useful stuff and turn that into a real community - from you!

The individuality is extremely important, it's a fundamental element of all social activity - "this is shared by me!"

However, you cannot create a closed Facebook Page. They are always open to the public. So you wouldn't create a Facebook page targeting your family affairs. It doesn't fit every situation.

I would suggest:

Profile: Only invite people you want into your inner sanctum. Very close friends, close family etc. This is where you share your personal stuff, family pictures etc. Lock down your profile so that no one else can see it.

Facebook Groups: Is for when you are part of something that isn't explicitly from you. Mark it "closed" if it is a group that you don't want other people to know you are a part of.

Facebook Pages: Use this for everything else where you want to share something with your friends. If you are into model trains, create a page where you share your passion for that, and invite your friends to follow you there.

Finally, Facebook Groups isn't the new social thing. "MSN Communities" did this back in 2001, and they failed catastrophically. The reason is that we don't want groups or forums, we want to extend our individuality with specific people, under specific circumstances.

Many sites today writes that the new Facebook Groups is the next big social thing. It's not. It's just a forum ... been there, tried that - didn't work.

What we want is to be able to create a home that we can share (with specific people) - not create a shared space.

Other issues:

You can create a group by going to:

You control which of your friends are a member of this group, You can add anyone you know to any group you are a part of.

There are no real privacy issues, but just as you are the only one who can decide what you want to share, you must also be the only one who decides what you want to be a part of.

Facebook says they are giving you more control, but they are also giving you control over what groups your friends should be in. Good for you, not so good for everyone else ...and in retrospect, not so good for you either. Your friends can decide what groups you should be a member of too.

You can opt-out of a group, but it's opt-out, not opt-in.

All members of a group can post status updates to everyone. Including people they are not friends with. So if you create a group with 20 people, then they will see not just your posts, but everyones. Result: huge amount of noise from people you don't know.

By default, Facebook's notification settings are set to notify you about everything every member post in the group. That means you will get notified with every update AND get an email even from people you don't know. You can turn off these notifications, but again, you have to stop the noise that other people force you into.

None of the post you make to a group is part of your wall. It's not you who are posting something from your wall to a group of people; it's you going to a group to post something. Same with pictures etc. They are all posted to the group, and are not part of your profile. This creates a lot of confusion in trying to figure out where you content is.

A group is just a stream with a posts from everyone in it. You can post photos, video, docs, events and links. You can't post an album of photos, there are no tabs, no way to filter post for just one person etc.

Some of these issues could be solved, but it doesn't solve the problem that Facebook Groups is really just a lot of small forums.

A much better solution is, as Mari Smith pointed out, to use Facebook Pages - especially if Facebook would allow us to create private pages for just a group of friends.

An even better solution is to simply solve the real problem. Allow people to post to a group-of-people, not a group with people in it.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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