Long ago, signing up for Facebook required a university email address and many users shared openly with everyone in their school’s network. In an effort to revive the feeling of safe sharing within an exclusive community, Facebook has begun testing a new “Groups At [University]” feature. It allows users to create Groups that are only visible to those with an authenticated .edu email address for their school. Users are encouraged to create Groups for their dorms, classes, clubs, parties and more.
Groups at Universities and its restricted visibility is likely designed to get students sharing and discussing a wider range of content — things they might be using private email for. Currently, there’s only Groups at Brown and Groups at Vanderbilt, but if successful Facebook might roll out the feature to more schools
As Facebook opened its service to the public and adults eventually started joining, students may have begun sharing less content related to their academic lives. A status update about a study session or frat party may have reached a more relevant audience in 2006. By 2011, though, too many family members or employers might have seen it without careful privacy control usage, leading students to self-censor or discuss these topics via email. Facebook wants people sharing everything on its site, and Groups at University could help it reclaim a core use case.
Students that have registered with Facebook their .edu email address of a school in the test bed will see be alerted to the feature. Once they’ve authenticated their email address, they’ll be able to create Groups with the same open, closed, or secret settings as the standard Groups feature Facebook launched last year, but no one outside their school will be able to see them. Within their Groups at [University] home page they can invite schoolmates to the feature, and view suggestions of Groups to join and a feed of recent open Group activity.
Brown and Vanderbilt were chosen because they use different email addresses for students vs alumni. Only those with current student addresses can gain access, which keeps sketchy recent grads from crashing the party.
Facebook is grappling with the impact of its own ubiquity. Its enormous 800 million user count might make each user more reluctant to share niche content. Features like Groups at Universities could help Facebook fend off student-only social networks and micronetworks like Path vying to own targeted sharing.