I’m still trying to wrap my head around the new Facebook Groups. It seems well-thought-out (yes, despite the sometimes annoying opt-out aspect) and well-implemented, but I’m just not sure what my use case for it is going to be. I want to use it, but I can’t figure out a reason to just yet.
Oh my god, it’s Google Wave all over again!
Okay, it’s really not. Instead, it almost seems like what Wave should have been when Google launched it as a consumer-facing product. Groups may lack some of the snazzy HTML5 bells and whistles and realtime technology of Wave, but it more than makes up for those in user experience and user interface elements that make this thing downright usable by human standards — something, sadly, Wave never quite achieved.
If Google Wave was overly-ambitious, Facebook Groups may be overly-social. Today, everyone seems to be complaining about the fact that any friend can add you to a group without your permission. But few people seem to recognize that this is exactly what Facebook is going for with Groups. Over the past few months, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others have been playing up the fact that Facebook Photos is destroying its competition — and that’s entirely because of the social tagging feature.
Facebook Photos exploded because any friend of yours could tag you in a photo. At first, plenty of people didn’t like this either. But the convenience of what Facebook calls “social design” won out. And Facebook is wise to try to replicate that. To a lesser extent, they’re doing it with Places too — any friend of yours can tag you as being at a place with them. And again, there are plenty of people who don’t like that either.
Now, this concept may or may not work beyond Photos, but credit Facebook for trying something different. Most companies see what works or half-works and stick to that. That leads to a lot of products that do the exact same thing. It’s lame and boring. Facebook takes big ballsy bets. They don’t always pay off, but when they do, they do in spades (see: News Feed, Platform, Like Button, and Photo tagging).
Google also took a big ballsy bet with Wave, but they were the first to admit that they weren’t clear what it was trying to be. That ended up being a problem from day one. What is Wave? Well, it’s a… Uh… Sharing… Social… Oh, realtime… YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO TRY IT OUT TO SEE FOR YOURSELF. And that’s exactly why the early demand for Wave invites was unprecedented. But by the time those rolled out, Google still wasn’t sure what Wave was. And neither were the people using it. And so there wasn’t actually much to see.
Facebook knows exactly what Groups is for. They developed it for a specific purpose: to encourage more people to share. Zuckerberg noted that basically no one was using lists (5 percent of total users), so they had to make the concept easier to implement and understand. Hence Groups with friend-enabled additions.
Google also wanted people to share things with Wave, but they never fully articulated that. Just look at the features though: share words, share pictures, share videos, share links, share documents — this is exactly the stuff you can do with Facebook Groups too. Facebook’s implementation is just much, much more clear.
Granted, Facebook has a huge advantage over Wave — that is, 500 million built-in users. That’s why I think Google should have tried out Wave in Gmail (like Buzz) before killing it, or at least Google Docs. It’s kind of funny: people today (including me) are complaining about the email updates from Facebook Groups. But early on with Wave, a big complaint was that there were no email notifications so you had no concept of updates.
But I actually think Facebook has broader ambitions with Groups too. My guess is that it’s a short-terms solution to a long term idea. That idea is that sharing will rule the web. Facebook needs a way to get people comfortable with sharing. And how do you do that? By letting you do it with your closest friends at first in smaller groups. But once you’re comfortable there, maybe you graduate to sharing with your broader network. And eventually, the world.
And if that happens, Facebook, not Google, wins.
That concept may make a lot of people uneasy. But that’s exactly why Facebook is taking these baby-steps. And I’m all for that, because I’m sort of a sharing extremist myself, I guess. I’m an all-or-nothing guy. I either want to share something with everyone in the world or just with my private group of friends. I hope one day Facebook gives me that simple option (well, they sort of already have), but in the mean time, this is an interesting approach to take sharing to the next level.
It’s like a Google Wave that human beings will actually use.
[image: 20th Century Fox]