Last week, I posted my opinion about Yahoo! Groups and how it still was a leader in the space in terms of group communication platforms. Well, soon after publishing the post, I got an email from one of my google Engineering friends who suggested I take another look at the new google Groups, now offered in beta. I have been on a number of google Groups already, and knew the chief architect of the original build. This version has a lot of changes that definitely improve the service in such a way that it makes it a much more servicable application from the web, unlike Yahoo!'s reskinning of the eGroups interface. And, if you like gmail, my earlier post on google Calendar and understand the power of a wiki, then you will definitely enjoy using google Groups.
Cleaner design, easier to use
Okay, so in my previous post, I lauded the ease of use found within the Yahoo! Groups interface, and was impressed with all of the features that are found within. It looks like google took a look at the Yahoo! Groups app, determined what really mattered, and left them in. What surprised me are the features they added - which seems to have centered the mailing around true groupware solutions - taking a lesson from wikis and Google Pages.
What google Groups has now includes:
- Strong Mailing List functionality
In the past, the service offered mailing list features, but it was not user friendly in its operation, often more difficult to use because it looked like it was designed for the engineer in mind. At one point, Zephir Teachout and I discussed the pros and cons of the two services. If she is currently using gmail, I think she will fall in love with this service now.
Emailing to the list is a breeze, even the online interface makes it even more beautiful than before. And since I was used to the gmail interface, it made it that much easier. Creating a list takes a maximum of two steps (three if you count the adds of emails) and within the group itself, the management functionality is almost scary in how powerful it is (click here to see an image of the settings). Again, reminiscent of google Calendar, this is powerful stuff - ranging from changing the interface look and feel, to the ordering of the functions on the right hand side. AJAX to the rescue here, making the interface a wonderful experience.
Discussions are also easy to follow on the web, with the threading capability of messages following along the gmail model as described before.
- google Pages within the group
This feature was a surprise when I first used it - thinking, as what existed at Yahoo!, the pages link was simply a repository of bookmarks for users to supply. Rather, google Pages functionality is found here - in other words, you can create a group wiki here - with the ease of creating any other wiki or Microsoft Word document. All the publishing features are there, you just have to become familiar with it. I have been using wikis for some time now (my favorite is SocialText), but this could change my use immediately.
Wikis are excellent in terms of group coordination and management of information on a shared document (think of having a Word document shared on a common folder in a server that you and your supporters could access and modify). By placing Pages within google Groups, permissions are automatically established (how else could you access the Page if you were not part of the Group), and the tools make publishing and version control (who did what to the document when) simple.
- File storage
Like Yahoo! Groups, members can store files in google Groups, and have a constraint on the amount they can store. But in this case, google Groups stores two to five times more (100M to Y!G's 20M with 30M added for photos), and these files can be used or the Pages within.
- Extra management features
While this might not seem like such a big deal, you know have the ability to cause an google Alert when specific messages come up with a keyword you are seeking. Found within the "Edit My Membership" tab, the nice aspect of this is, if your volunteers start mentioning topics that are particular hot issues and you need to be alerted to it (to remove the risk of supporters saying something that could be politically damaging), now you have the ability to alert yourself to the incident and address accordingly.
My opinion - very good community management service
Interestingly enough, going through the application has brought me an even greater appreciation on the work google is doing. In recent articles, people have been commenting on how poor gogle is doing with all of their applications - not making a significant dent into the existing market of apps out there. Mark my words, this is only the beginning of a google suite of products that is driven by their Adwords system (note the relevant google ads at the right of the screen, where the management tabs are). And, as they begin to integrate the apps and figure out the right type of interface that people become more attuned to, google will show it's product superiority.
As a community management tool, this is powerful stuff. Maybe missing the database and all, but heck - you can always use google Spreadsheet for the database.