So much unrealized potential
When it comes to social networking sites, Facebook is at the top of the list lately with it's powerful application platform and robust user pages. Unfortunately one of its most promising features, Groups, seems to have been left in the dust.
A lot of talk and attention has been directed towards Facebook lately, especially since the opening of the application platform so any user with a PC and an itch to code can add more or less any function they desire to the wildly popular social networking site. On the whole, the applications platform has done great things for the site and turned the profile pages into great information, productivity and entertainment tools.
Of course, all of this is great, except it’s not applied evenly. On one hand you have your amazing profile page system, with limitless potential thanks to third party applications, but on the other hand you have the Groups system. Like the name implies, a Facebook Group is a point for users with some common interest come together. In theory, you’d think this would be a fantastic opportunity to leverage all the vast amount of data each user represents in some really interesting way. Wouldn’t it be cool to see what countries of the world are represented in a particular group? There are tons of possibilities. Possibilities that are sadly ignored at the moment.
In a Facebook group, all you can do is post to the “wall”, a common bulletin board that is displayed on the main group page, post to a more traditional discussion board for your group, or post photos. There’s no way to integrate applications, no way to easily extend functionality. When you form a group, you essentially have a glorified web forum.
Things aren’t much better from an admin standpoint. I am the co-admin on the Desktop Customization group on Facebook, which has seen very strong growth since we launched it just a few short days ago. What can I modify? Group description, type, news, basic profile information, and who else has admin rights on the group. The options for which functions you want to have on your group number a massive four.
- Show related groups
- Enable discussion board
- Enable the wall
- Enable photos
That’s it. At this moment in time that’s what you’re limited to if you want to run a group on Facebook.
Here’s what I’d like to see added to the Facebook Group system. Adding in some of these features would make the group system as much of a killer feature as the profile pages are. Facebook could be the premier site for social groups as well as individuals.
- Applications for Groups
Let the ingenious developers get access to the group system. You’ve seen the success that resulted from profile applications. Imagine the possibilities when you have access to a much larger, and more diverse pool of information. Opening it up for third party applications also means less work for the Facebook core team as they don’t have to worry as much about developing new functionality themselves.
Tagging is the wave of the future man! Allow groups to tag themselves with keywords, making it easier for them to be found, and also for users to be better able to sort what’s out there. I’d love to see all groups at a glance that flag themselves with the keyword “Vista” While searching does accomplish this to an extent, single-click sorting from the group page is probably a lot easier for users to get their heads around. We have tags for photos, why not for groups?
- News Feed
Right now, you can specify one current news item for the group. That’s it. When you want to update it, you overwrite the current news. It would be nice to have a listing of news items to scan back through. This would help the Groups system supplant external web sites. Many group web pages are used to distribute news or information, and have a news page of some sort. Give users that same functionality as a group.
- Better Member Sorting
My group has 120 people in it right now. There is no easy way to sort through them. Who’s the most recent? How many people belong to the same main networks? I’d like to see if there’s any sort of commonality between my group members. Think of it almost as groups within the group. This information will help any group admin figure out how to best promote and manage their group.
- Posting Video & Audio
Ok, I can toss up photos, which are great and all, but video is where things are going… I mean, I hear there’s this new-fangled thing called YouTube out there that lets users upload their own videos to share with people. Also, a bit older but still cool, are these things called podcasts. Allowing a group to link and host rich media content adds a lot of value.
- Invite Users Who Aren’t Your Friend
Ok, this one could border on a spamming nightmare, but in general, groups should be able to invite users who might be interested but with whom the admins might not be friends with. Instead of having an internal method for this, I have been emailing contacts outside of Facebook with a group link to join. Make it easier to connect with people without having to resort to outside communication.
- Block Rearrangement
This one is more important once more features are added. On my personal profile I can rearrange blocks of content more or less as I please. I can’t move anything on the group. If we ever get more options on what to include in a group, being able to move things around is a must.
- Better User Access Management
Lets say I have an officer who isn’t an administrator. I would like them to be able to moderate the discussion board, but not the wall. Or maybe I want them to just be able to update the news item. Right now, if you want a user to edit more or less anything on the group, they have to be a full-fledged administrator. Granular access for officers is key for large and growing groups.
This is all off the top of my head after playing with Groups for a few days. I’m sure if I were to seriously sit down and try and design my ideal Group experience, I’d be able to come up with a lot more. I’d be happy though if even half of the above ideas were implemented. Facebook Groups stand to do for small online social sites (gaming clans, blog groups etc) what the Facebook Profile page did for personalized homepages. It could make them obsolete.
But for now, I remain frustrated with the lack of options and make due with what we have. It’d be nice if there was any mention on the official blog of any work on Groups being planned, but I know that right now all the attention and effort is being centered on the application platform for user profiles.