Collaborating via Social Networks and Groupware : Creating Groups on Social Networks

8/9/2012 4:25:03 PM
When it comes to collaborating with a group of people who may or may not share the same physical location, one naturally turns to the web. When all team members have access to the Internet, why not use the Internet to connect the members of the group—to enable communication, file sharing, and the like?

Creating Groups on Social Networks

You’re probably already familiar with social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. The typical social network is a hosted site that aims to create a community of users, each of whom posts his or her own personal profile on the site. Each user includes enough person information in her profile to enable other users with similar interests to connect as “friends”; one’s collection of friends helps to build a succession of personal communities.

Most profile pages include some form of blog, discussion forum, or chat space so that friends can communicate with the person profiled. In many instances, individual users also post a running list of their current activities so that their friends always know what they’re up to.

Given that social networks are personal in nature, what value do they hold for businesses, community groups, and families? Lots, if you use them properly.

You see, most social networking sites let you create your own topic-specific groups. In this instance, a group is a collection of users who share the same interest; group members can communicate via discussion boards, share photos and videos, and even upload and download documents and other files.

In other words, a social network group is like a virtual meeting or community room. Instead of posting notices on a physical bulletin board, you post notices on a virtual message board. Instead of exchanging brochures and papers by hand, you upload photos, documents, and other files for all to share. And, because most social networks are free for all to use (in exchange for the occasional on-page advertisement), it’s a cheap way to keep the members of your group up-to-date and organized.

In this regard, I find social network groups especially useful for community groups, far-flung friends, and families. You get just enough functionality to keep everyone in touch with each other, at no cost to anyone involved. No IT support is necessary, nor do you have to lease web hosting space; the social network site maintains all the servers and technology. And, of course, all of these sites are easy to join and easy to use, which is nice if your groups include non-tech-savvy members.

These social network groups are less useful for larger businesses. In a nutshell, these groups lack the advanced collaboration features that help to keep group projects on track. In addition, the profusion of web page advertising is anathema to many businesspeople. Finally, many businesses aren’t comfortable posting their business on a nonsecure third-party site (nor should they be), especially when more secure options are available.

With all this in mind, let’s take a quick look at the two most popular social networking sites (at least in the United States) and what they offer in terms of group collaboration features.


Of all the social network sites, I recommend Facebook (www.facebook.com) first and foremost for those serious about group collaboration. Compared to MySpace, Facebook is more of a site for grown-ups; MySpace is more suited for teenagers and preteens.

When you create a group on Facebook, you end up with a group page like the one in Figure 1. A Facebook group includes the following collaborative features:

  • Recent news

  • Discussion board

  • Uploaded photos and videos

  • Posted web pages

  • The Wall—a kind of chat board

Figure 1. A Facebook group page.

Your group can be Open (public), Closed (description if public, but members have to be approved), or Secret (membership by invitation only). Unfortunately, Facebook groups do not offer file uploading or sharing.


A group on MySpace (www.myspace.com) is even more limited in functionality than what you can find on Facebook; this isn’t surprising, given MySpace’s typically younger audience. There’s no file uploading, although members can upload group photos. There’s a facility for posting group bulletins, and the obligatory discussion board, but that’s it. Oh, and you have to put up with advertisements smack in the middle of your group page, as you can see in Figure 2. If you can live with all this, by all means consider MySpace for your (limited) group needs.

Figure 2. A MySpace group page.

Other Web Groups

The groups on social networking sites aren’t the only groups you can create on the web. In fact, they may be some of the less-functional groups out there; other sites do groups better.

Case in point: Google Groups (groups.google.com). When you create a Google Group, you get the obligatory message forum, but you also get to upload and share files, as well as create topic-specific pages within the group; group members can be notified of new posts via email. A Google Group can be Public (anyone can join, but only members can read messages), Announcement-Only (anyone can join, but only moderators can post messages), or Restricted (only the people you invite can join).

Similar to Google Groups is Yahoo! Groups (groups.yahoo.com). Here you also get a message forum (with email notification of new posts) and file uploading, and also a photo library, group calendar, and polls. You can select whether your group appears in the Yahoo! Groups directory, whether anyone can join or if you have to approve all members, and who can post messages to the group.

Because of the file-uploading and -sharing options, either of these two groups might be more useful to you than a Facebook or MySpace group—even though they might not have the cachet of the social networking groups.

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