Facebook makes Questions product available only for groups, pages

Facebook has removed the Questions feature from users’ News Feed publisher, leaving the product only available to groups and pages, TechCrunch confirms.

Questions has gone through a number of iterations, never quite catching on as the social network envisioned. It began in 2010 as a Q&A community, similar to Quora, but that product didn’t even make it out of beta. The company overhauled Questions and relaunched it as a type of polling and recommendation feature in 2011, focusing on users’ opinions rather than facts.

Ultimately, Questions turned out to be more of a novelty feature than a utility and the company subsequently put little development into it. It was nearly a year after the product launched that Facebook even made it possible to see and answer questions from mobile devices. Users never gained a way to ask questions via mobile.

The product did take off more among page owners. Marketers found success in asking Questions in a format that users could quickly answer. And since they generated News Feed stories when users answered them, Questions could go viral, especially when they first launched and had higher weight in the feed. For now, pages still have the option to create Questions, albeit behind a drop-down menu where they’ve been since April. In August, we saw Facebook testing a new, more visual format for the feature. We wonder whether this may become a paid feature similar to Offers and perhaps Collections.

Facebook has also left Questions in tact for groups and events, suggesting that the feature has been useful for helping small groups of people make decisions together.

When it launched, Questions seemed like it could be an interesting social plugin for blogs and news sites to get feedback and engagement from readers, but Facebook never offered this. In fact, it didn’t even add the ability to write Questions via the Graph API until 10 months after launch.

Facebook Groups get Dropbox integration for more flexible file sharing

Facebook and Dropbox today announce the integration of the cloud storage service to allow users to easily share Dropbox files with people in their Facebook Groups.

Now when users select “Add File” from the Groups publisher, they will have an option to choose a file from Dropbox. The first time users do this, they will have to connect their Dropbox and Facebook accounts, if they have not done so already. Then, any document, photo or video file they share will show up on the group’s wall and can be viewed on a smartphone or tablet. Group members can like or comment on file posts, just as they can with other group posts. When users make edits to files they’ve shared, the group will get an update automatically.

Group members are able to see a user’s post with the link to the file but do not have access to the rest of the person’s Dropbox. Dropbox creates a unique token used only in that link, however, group members can copy the link and share the file elsewhere.

The feature helps make Facebook Groups more flexible and efficient for team collaboration as well as personal sharing. Dropbox suggests the examples of students sharing notes with their study group, a coach sharing the latest game schedule with his basketball team’s group, or someone posting a birthday video to a family group.

The social network first gave school-specific groups native file-sharing capabilities in April, and then began to roll it out to all groups in May. Natively shared documents within a group can be public or available to members-only based on the original privacy setting of the group. Public groups cannot make individual files members-only without making the entire group “closed” or “private.”

Dropbox offers users 2 GB of storage for free, with opportunities to gain more free storage by referring friends to the service. The company also offers plans starting at $9.99 a month for additional storage. The new groups integration could help raise awareness and usage of the service among Facebook users, as the prompt to upload Dropbox files will appear to everyone even if they haven’t already created an account.

TechCrunch notes that Dropbox VP of Engineering Aditya Agarwal once served as director of engineering at Facebook. The company has previously allowed users to connect with Facebook to share files with friends, but it did not have integration with groups. Dropbox has 1.3 million monthly active Facebook-connected users, according to AppData.

Facebook groups will soon show members who has seen each post and when

Facebook groups will now show users which members have seen each post, the social network announced today.

Below each post within a group will be a check mark followed by the number of people who have seen the post. Hovering over or clicking on that note will present a list of group members who saw the post and when. After all users in the group have seen the post, the post will say “seen by everyone.” The feature is available on desktop and mobile versions of groups. Although it hasn’t gone live for us yet, Facebook says this will begin rolling out today.

This is similar to what Facebook now does in its mobile Messenger app to let users know their message has been received, but when applied to larger groups, some users might be uncomfortable with this because they feel it reveals too much about their activity on the site. Overall, the feature is useful for groups of people who are collaborating on a project, scheduling plans or sharing other important updates. Facebook provides the example of a soccer team using groups and the new “seen” feature to make sure everyone knows about what time practice starts.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine says Facebook wouldn’t discuss whether it was considering adding the feature to posts users make outside of groups. He notes that implementing this in News Feed or Timeline might be going too far and make people feel self-conscious about what they browse on the social network. For now it seems Facebook will limit this to groups and private messages. Perhaps in the future, group admins could have control over whether posts display information about who has seen them.

Facebook didn’t provide details about what it means for a post to be “seen,” and whether it involves a user visiting the group page or having the story load in News Feed. The Help Center tells users to ”keep in mind that if people see a group post or message, it doesn’t always mean they had the chance to read it carefully.”

Facebook to give all groups file-sharing capabilities

Facebook is expanding its group file sharing features to give all groups the ability share files between members, we’ve confirmed with a spokesperson.

Last month, the social network gave school-specific groups this functionality but it did not share that it would make the feature available widely until Mashable reported the news today. According to the Facebook Help Center, there will be a “Files” tab at the top of a group page and an “upload file” icon in the publisher. Users can share presentations, schedules, documents and other files with a group. Mashable says this excludes music files to avoid copyright infringement issues.

Documents within a group can be public or available to members-only based on the original privacy setting of the group. Public groups cannot make individual files members-only without making the entire group “closed” or “private.”

Previously, users could create and co-edit “docs” within groups, but these could not be printed or exported to other word processors. The new files feature does not allow online editing, but users can download files, make edits and upload a new version. When users upload a revised version of a file, the previous version of the file remains available.

Facebook acquired file-sharing company Drop.io in 2010, but we’ve learned this project was completely independent of that. Drop.io founder Sam Lessin was most recently involved with the Timeline redesign and organ donation initiative, according to his Facebook profile.

File-sharing will begin to roll out to all groups, regardless of size, today.

Image credit: Mashable

Facebook to bring back option to invite all group members to events

Users will once again be able to send event invites to all members of a group, a Facebook spokesperson tells us.

Sometime in the past few weeks, the social network removed the option to directly invite an entire group to an event. Users could only send invitations to users they were connected to as friends. Facebook tells us the reasoning was that creating an event within the group environment generates a notification for users who have group notifications enabled. However, many users were frustrated with the change because their events were no longer getting the same amount of traction among group members.

Facebook says it decided to bring back the feature for all groups as a result of the feedback. The change is expected to go live later today.

People who use Facebook groups for promoting events are likely to appreciate the return in functionality, but they should be mindful of sending invites that members might perceive as spam. The social network often removes features that are abused in this way. For example, Facebook pages can no longer send updates or event invites to fans’ inboxes.

Facebook unveils school-specific groups, allows file sharing among users with designated .edu email addresses

Facebook announced a new groups for schools feature that enables users with active school email addresses join online communities related to their college or university.

Groups for schools differ from Facebook’s other groups in that they can be exclusive to students and that members can share documents with each other. The company seems to position these groups as a utility for coordinating schedules, sharing lecture notes and messaging classmates. But university-specific groups might also increase engagement among college users who don’t feel comfortable using the social network the way students did before their teachers, parents and bosses joined.

Not all schools are eligible for groups yet. Users can check the groups for schools page or wait to see a message appear on the left side of their home page when the feature is available to them. Once users join their school community, they are able to create subgroups for individual classes, study groups, clubs, teams, dorms or friends. Users can join groups for multiple schools as long as they have an active email address for each. This is necessary for study abroad or transfer students.

On group pages there will be a tab for files. Users can share non-copyrighted documents and other files with members of a school group. Anyone in a school group can upload and download files within that group. When users upload a revised version of a file, the previous version of the file remains available. Users can also message any confirmed member of their school community without being friends first.

Facebook began testing school-specific groups in December 2011, among Brown and Vanderbilt students. At the time we wondered whether university groups would be a start to a broader initiative to get more people familiar with Facebook’s offerings around small-group sharing. Since then the social network has redesigned groups a few times and given events more group-like functionality.

The way groups for schools restrict access to users with a designated .edu email address is reminiscent of the way networks operated when Facebook began in 2004. File sharing is another former feature from the social network’s college-only days. Founder Mark Zuckerberg built a peer-to-peer file sharing application called Wirehog on top of the social network, but then-Facebook president Sean Parker encouraged him to shut it down to avoid copyright infringement issues. File sharing would be a useful feature for other non-school groups, but preventing illegal media sharing would certainly be difficult.

Facebook makes search, about section less noticeable in latest redesign of groups

Facebook rolled out an update to group pages that implements tabs underneath the cover photo and makes the about section and search option harder to find.

When the social network redesigned groups last month to include a cover photo, the image would appear slightly transparent, and colors would be restored when users hovered over it. This action would also temporarily hide links to photos, docs, events and the list of all members. Now the transparency is gone and those links have a permanent place as tabs. This is more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Two aspects of the design that don’t seem to be improvements, however, are the change to the page’s “about” section and search feature. Previously, there was a section on the right-hand side of the page that displayed information about the group. Many groups used this post rules or helpful links. Now, users won’t see this unless they click the “about” tab. Similarly, there used to be a search bar beneath the cover photo, but it’s currently hidden behind a small magnifying glass icon. This means users will be less likely to use search to find out if a topic has already been discussed in a group. It’s possible that users didn’t take advantage of this feature much before so Facebook made it less prominent, but that seems counterproductive.

The social network is likely to continue to tinker with the design of groups to maintain consistency across the site. Currently, groups look more like News Feed than profiles or pages. This is useful for groups that function as discussion boards or collaboration tools, but might not be right for groups of family members, friends or teammates. These people might want Timeline features like posting milestones and displaying large photos. We’ll be interested to see what direction Facebook takes. So far the company hasn’t shared any information about the number of active groups or how the product is most commonly used.

Previous design for groups

Cover photos roll out to more groups

Many Facebook groups got an update Wednesday night that displays members’ profile pictures in the header and allows admins to add a cover photo like they can on Timeline.

When we first saw this feature three weeks ago, the top panel included smaller thumbnail images of several more group members. Now, only up to eight members are featured at a time. The order seems to be based on which members were most recently active on the page. Clicking on a thumbnail leads to the person’s profile.

Group admins can decide to add a cover photo instead of showing members’ pictures. The maximum size allowed appears to be 800 pixels wide by 200 pixels high — smaller than Timeline cover photos. Cover photos can be changed by hovering over the top right corner of the group page, which might not be intuitive for some users. There is no prompt in the group creation flow or in the ‘Edit Group’ dashboard. And unlike with Timeline, group cover photos do not show in the mobile version of Facebook.

We expect the social network to announce Timeline-like features for fan pages at the end of the month.

Facebook groups get Timeline-like cover photos

Some Facebook groups now have cover photos, making them more consistent with the new Timeline design.

The default image is a collage of the group members’ profile photos, which link to individual profiles. The image is slightly transparent, but colors are restored when a user hovers over it. We’ve heard that any member has the option to change the cover photo, though we haven’t been able to test this ourselves. It is surprising that non-admins would be able to change the image, but there may be a setting that allows or disallows this.

[Update 2/23/12 9:06 a.m. - We've been able to interact with the new group  design ourselves and have not seen the option for non-admins to change the cover photo.]

The group’s Wall has not been changed to the Timeline format. This is likely because the order of posts changes based on activity. When a member comments on an old post, for example, that post is moved to the top of the page.

This is the first instance of Timeline-like features being added to another area of Facebook. Many page owners wonder when their business or fan pages will get the Timeline treatment. We previously assumed pages would get similar two-column reverse chronological presentation, but the minor change to groups suggests that pages might not get a complete overhaul either.

Facebook has not provided details how or a date for when pages will be redesigned. “We hope to make Pages more consistent with Timeline in the future, but we have nothing further to share at this time,” a Facebook spokesperson says.

Thanks to Denis Baranov for the tip and screenshots.


University-Only Groups Seek to Bring Back Facebook Exclusivity

Facebook is testing a form of its groups product that restricts access to users with a designated .edu email address, reminiscent of the way networks operated when Facebook began in 2004. Students are being prompted to create groups for different aspects of their college experience, whether its classes, dorms, intramural sports, student organizations or parties.

The test is limited to Brown and Vanderbilt universities because they provide different email addresses for students and alumni, according to a TechCrunch post by former Inside Facebook lead writer Josh Constine. This prevents former students from infiltrating the groups, as many early adopters did when Facebook first launched.

Facebook’s existing groups product allows users to create closed and secret groups, but the company must be interested in determining the demand for even more limited groups. University groups could be a start to a broader initiative to get more people familiar with Facebook’s offerings around small-group sharing, which has been an increasingly popular topic since the launch of Google+. Facebook’s updates to groupsfriend lists and privacy controls this year all promote the idea that Facebook is still a safe place to share information about yourself with your friends.

For the company whose mission is to “make the world more open and connected,” there is an ongoing question about how to balance public and private. One day they launch the subscribe feature to broadcast your status updates to a public audience. Another they bring back university-only groups. How Facebook optimizes for both openness and exclusivity in coming years will determine how much marketshare it can maintain as competing networks add new features and users.


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