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Facebook forces friends to opt-out of group adds and notifications, leaves chat crippled, plus bugs
The reworked Facebook Groups feature on Facebook has only been out in the wild for barely 36 hours, but that’s a long time on the Internet and maybe an eternity for Facebook updates. Already, one can find thousands of blog posts picking apart the service, pointing out its flaws, and decrying its blatant invasion of privacy (it wouldn’t be a Facebook update without a privacy violation, right?).
Here are the most significant issues with the new feature:
1. Add Friends to Group
Any user can create a group, call it anything they want, and add any of his or her friends to the group, all without any of the added friends having to accept the terms. So if a prominent tech blogger wants to add one of his friends on the site (like, say, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg) to the group for NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association), he can do it.
In response to this humorous gesture, Zuckerberg merely commented, "This is why it's easy to leave groups,” added a smiley face, and left the group.
It appears that if this sort of prank or spam occurs (and the invited user leaves the group), the friend who originally added them loses their adding privileges for that one user. It’s an elegant touch, but unnecessary. Why didn’t Facebook just require friends to accept the invitation?
This was likely a tough decision for Zuckerberg’s engineers, but they ultimately aired on the side of precedent. Facebook users can tag each other in photos (ordinarily) without requesting any special approval. The efficiency of this system has enabled Facebook Photos to become one of the most widely used photo sites on the Web. Coupled with the next major problem, however, forcing friends into group without initial consent could be annoying for many users.
2. Notifications are opt-out
Related to the first point, when you’re added to a group, you’re also automatically opted-in to email and site notifications related to every aspect of the group’s activities: new posts, new comments, etc. For some quickly growing groups whose members didn’t have enough time to opt-out of notifications, this resulted in inboxes flooded with hundreds of emails, in some instances.
Facebook had to have foreseen this. A simple solution would be to create a digest, but an even fairer solution to users is to make notifications opt-in. Users won’t be happy to use a service that continually spams them with imfomation as trite as, “Your friend posted a video to the group Xyz.”
3. Group Chat noise
While I haven’t experienced this personally, any group that has large amounts of users online at the same time will likely experience a great clatter in the group chat window. Facebook may have widened the windows to make more room for messages and the service as a whole might be less crash-prone, but these changes might not be enough to
And why does the chat always open every time a user visits the group page? Clicking through to a group page to view updates and new comments isn’t necessarily a request to start speaking to everyone in the group all at once.
Considering how streamlined and smoothly running Facebook’s site normally is, it’s a bit surprising to find so many annoying bugs in Groups. For example, all too often, clicking on one of the share links (post, link, photo, video, event, doc) does absolutely nothing instead of dropping down a menu to add content. The user has to refresh the page and try again, something that rarely happens on the news feed and profile pages.
Additionally, Groups seems a little inconsistent with how it updates the feed with new posts, comments, and likes in real-time. Even worse, clicking notifications sometimes returns a user to the exact same page they saw last time. Only after repeated refreshes does the new post finally appear.
Facebook deviates from its own standard seen on the news feed and profile pages by implementing a new ordering system that appears to place a post with more recent comments and Likes above a post with less interaction, even if the latter post is newer. While this new system may make a lot of sense for groups (especially if tons of people are switching off notifications), it’s a little confusing.
This problem could easily be solved without having to eliminate or alter the current ordering system use. Facebook should, however, enable users to sort posts as they’d like: by most recent comments, by most comments, chronologically, etc.
In the end, Facebook Groups looks like it has some serious potential for sharing and collaboration, but the edges are still rough. My biggest question, even when all the above complaints have been addressed, is this: who is Groups for? I’ll try to address that in a later post.
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