Google Groups Review

(March 30, 2010 22:43)
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What is Google Groups?

Google Groups is not exactly and precisely a common forum software. It is more a product that is able to manage a community with different tools, and is mainly based on the concept of a mailing list. The mailing list is, besides, the main purpose of this tool, and it has been more and more improved, to support additional features, like hosting a small website, managing anti-spam, theming, groups, files,...

We will see how it could be used and how it could be compared to a classic forum software.

Review Updates:

  • March 29, 2010: First Review.

Google Groups is recommended for Huge Community.

(and supports smaller communities perfectly as well.)

Client Requirements

Browser & Client Requirements
Compatible Browsers
List of Compatible Browsers.
Mozilla FirefoxMozilla FirefoxInternet ExplorerInternet Explorer
Google ChromeGoogle ChromeOperaOpera
Apple SafariApple SafariKonquerorKonqueror
Mozilla SeaMonkeyMozilla SeaMonkey
Required Plugins/Technologies
Additional or Basic Requirements from Client Side.
Javascript, AJAX.
Localization
Languages supported by Google Groups.
Yes.
Supported Languages:
Armenian Bulgarian
Belarusian Catalan
Chinese (Simplified) Czech
German Danish
Estonian Esperanto
Spanish Finnish
French Greek
Croatian Hungarian
Indonesian Hebrew
Hindi Persian
Icelandic Italian
Japanese Korean (South)
Lithuanian Latvian
Dutch Norwegian
Filipino Polish
Portuguese Romanian
Serbian Russian
Arabic Swedish
Slovene Slovak
Swahili Thai
Turkish Ukrainian
English (British) English (American)
Vietnamese Afrikaans
Chinese (Traditional)
Compatibility with Smartphones
Compatible SmartPhones
Compatible Cellphone Brands and Manufacturers.
No.
Application Distribution / Type
How it is distributed / App Store Availability
No.

Forum Threads & Posts

Forum Threads / Topics
Forum Style Flat/Threaded Forum Organization No.
Thread Icons No Topic Tags -
Hot Topics - Unread Topics Yes
Hidden Topics No Sticky Threads Yes
Related Threads - Detect Duplicate Threads No
Announcements -
Posting Messages / Answers
Message Editing Form
How to Post Messages.
  • Plain Text
  • WYSIWYG Editor
  • Rich Text Editor
  • Formatting Buttons
  • Preview Button
Post Editing Format
Supported Markup Language (HTML, Wiki, BBCode,...).
  • Plain
  • HTML
Spell Checker
Checks typos on posts and topics.
Plugin
Image Attachment
How Images can be Attached and Displayed in Message Posts.
No.
Embedded Videos
Videos and Media Websites Supported in Message Posts.
No.
Posting Features
Quick Reply Box Yes Smileys Yes
Attachments Yes Syntax Highlighting No
Message Rating
No Message Quoting Yes

Note that many features will depend on the tool you are using to communicate with the Google Groups you participate. For example, the post editing could be more advanced if you use an offline email client, like Thunderbird or Outlook. Some advanced email box, like GMail or Yahoo! Mail will also provide a WYSIWYG form to create and post your messages. Obviously, in this case, the Preview button is useless, as you directly see what you are going to send.

This is exactly the same with the spell checker. If you use advanced browser, or an email client, the spell checker will be embedded, but this is not mandatory.

From the pure web interface of Google Groups, posting a message is really basic, as it is plain text only. However, from this form, you will always be able to quote existing message by choosing the Replying button on the mail you would like to answer. You could even remove some part of the previous message to quote only important thing. Here is an example


> This is the previous message
> sent by one of your friend

And here is your answer.

> This can, of course, continue several times.

As you can see here ;-)

Additional & Technical Features

Additional Forum Features
Poll Creation Plugin
Private Messages
Users Can Communicate using an Internal Messaging System.
Yes
Instant Messaging
Discuss with Visitors and Members in a Chat Window.
Plugin
Calendar
Topic, Member Birthdays, Events are available from the perspective of a calendar.
Plugin
Online Users List
Connected User List (Often Found in the Forum Footer).
Plugin
Members List
Search and Consult the List of Members.
Yes
Technical Features
Bundled Software
Additional Software Available with the Forum.
  • Portal
  • Website Home Page
RSS/Atom Syndication
Posts and Threads Exported to Feeds Aggregators Syndicate.
R
Friendly URLs
URLs are clear and contain information about the topic (title, message,...). Highly recommended for SEO purposes.
No
Post by Email
Post Directly From your Email Box.
Yes
Remote Control
Remote Control from External Software/Websites.
No.
Cache System
Cache pages to optimize bandwidth and load times.
No
Template Engine
It is easier to theme a forum using a known template engine (more docs & examples,...).
No.

Private messages, are, as you supposed, simple email address, that you could directly send email to your friends through their email address. Indeed, this is the main way to identify who you are talking with, the nickname is therefore optional.

If you use a GMail account, then Instant Messaging will be bundled, as a Calendar to create appointment with your friends, Avatars, and so on. Of course, Google Groups is really well integrated with other Google services... About this, there is no, for the moment, interesting integration between Google Buzz and Google Groups, so we are still waiting for new improvements from this side.

However, traditional features, that we almost find every time on forum software are not available, or partially present, due to the specific architecture of Google Groups. Polls, for example could not be created, even if you could do something with Google Documents, this is not as easy as what you can do in PhpBB or Simple Machines. Online users will only work for people you already add in your Google Chat Contacts. This is obviously not really smart for mailing list of thousand members.

For all of those features, we note them as Plugin, as this is not present if you only use core features of Google Groups.

User Profiles & Options

Some details about Google Groups features regarding members.
Member Options & Features
Bookmark Threads
User Profiles Keep a List of Followed Posts and Topics.
Yes
Email Notifications
Receive Emails When New Messages are Posted in Followed Threads.
Yes
Export private messages
Private Messages can be Downloaded by Users.
Yes
Payment Subscriptions
Paying Membership Subscription.
No
User Profiles
User Profile
User Information and Settings.
Yes
Avatars
Pictures of Members, Useful to Easily Identify their Posts.
Yes
Signature
Signatures Added at the Bottom of Each Message.
Yes
Ranks
Tags and Labels Identifying the Members, based on specific criteria (Total Posts Count, Credits, Moderation Level...)
No

Again, most features for users and settings will depend on what email provider you use. If you use GMail, then you will have user profiles, avatars, thread bookmarking (using stars)... and so on.

For other feature, the mailing list system on which Google Groups is relied on will automatically bring classic email features to the software, and basically, unread topics, private messages exportation, email notifications are all naturally available.

Moderation & Users Management

Moderation & Threads Management
Moderation No.
Moderator per section No
Global Moderator No
Move Threads
Move Threads from Topics
No
Shadow Topics
When a thread is moved, the previous position is kept in order to inform users of this modification.
No
Close/Lock Threads
Close/Lock Problematic Threads
No
Users Management
User Groups
Organize and define groups of users, and apply different actions and settings on them.
Common Groups: Guests, Members, Moderators, Administrators,...
Yes
User Registration No.
Limit Features For New Users
Features are limited if a user has created a small number of posts.
-
Guest Posting No
Multiple Administrators Yes
Send Warnings to Users
Inform users by email or PM that they infringe the board rules, and could be excluded for such behavior.
No
Forum/Section Restricted Access
ACL could be use to determine if a user or a group of users can access (in read only, post message) to some sections and topics.
No
User Banishment Yes

Administration & Support

Note that threads, on Google Groups, are simply organized with the subject topic of each sent email. If you send an email with a different subject, then you will create a new topic. Note that the tree layout that GMail provides by default is really powerful to follow multiple discussions at the same time, and this is clearly one of the reason why it is possible to manage without difficulties a mailing list with thousand of members.

Database Management
Backup Database
Backup forum datas that you could store somewhere else.
No
Prune Database
Remove old and unused datas from your forum.
No
Restore Database
Restore a backup of your database if the previous install crashed.
No
Administration Tools
Statistics
Statistics about posts count, users, traffic...
Yes Error/Notice Log Viewer
Forum Logs could be consulted.
No
Tasks Scheduler
Maintenance tasks are regularly launched and could be scheduled.
No Mass Mailing
Send an email (newsletters, advertisements, information,...) to all users.
Yes
Installation & Upgrading
Installation Method
How this forum software could be installed.
Upgrading Method
How this forum software could be upgraded.
Updates Notifications
The Admin Panel informs you when a new version is released.
-
Forum Migration
Convert an existing forum to Google Groups.
No.

No possible migration yet.

However, developing a tool that retrieve the entire database of topics and messages from a classic forum software, and send them as email to a newly created Google Groups is possible, and therefore, there is no limitation to import anything to Google Groups.

Security & Spam Protection

Security & Spam Protection
CAPTCHA
Captcha protects your forum against spam bots.
e.g., Syndicate
Yes
Abnormal Behavior Detection
Detect users or request strange behaviors, and try to process proactive actions.
-
Words Filtering
Offensing Words are automatically replaced.
No
User Blacklist
Prevent specific user accounts to register (based on email address, name,...) and disable potentially harmful members.
Yes
IP Blocking
Prevent access to spam robots and other scripts that could attempt DDOS or Brute Force attacks on your forum.
Yes

Customization & Social Networks

Customization
Plugins
Add new features to your forum installation.
No.
Themes
Modify the style of your forum easily.
Yes.
Custom BBCodes No Smiley Packs No
Custom
Thread Icons
No Additional User Profile Fields
Ask more about your members with custom fields.
No
Integration with Applications, Social Networks, Intranet...
Social Networks
Users can share information from their social network account...
CMS / Blog Bridges
Integration with existing Web publishing tools.
No.
User Accounts Integration
Do users be able to log in with their corporate, Google, Facebook,... accounts?
Content Aggregation
Forum allows to integrate news and content from other website, using an aggregation protocol (RSS, RDF, Atom,...).
No.

The Google anti-spam is quite powerful, even if some people are sometimes, able to subscribe your email account without your permission to some spammy groups. The performance are really high, and you never have to wait minutes for your message to be posted and dispatched on email inboxes of the mailing list members.

Of course, using an hosted service will prevent you from customizing everything, but, for some exceptions, it is however possible to modify things. For example, with GMail Google Labs, your users will be able to support additional smileys. We are a little bit disappointed that there is no Google Labs for Google Groups yet, and we really hope it will change in the future.

Of course, the integration with Google Accounts is really tight, as you will only have to give the password of your existing Google Account to be able to log on and create your first group in Google Groups.

Theming and creating pages are really easy to perform, even if you cannot do everything, this is really sufficient for people that want a ready architecture fast.

W3C Norms & Accessibility

Norms & Accessibility
HTML / XHTML Markup
XHTML 1.0 Transitional.
XHTML 1.0 Transitional
Click to see if it respects HTML norms.
CSS Stylesheets
CSS 2.
CSS 2
Click to see if it respects CSS norms.
Accessibility (WAI)
Web Accessibility ensures that the forum is usable by people of all abilities and disabilities.
Conformance to AA level.
AA
UTF-8 Support
Default encoding used to support all locales and countries.
Yes
Conformance to W3C Norms
Does Google Groups correctly follow (X)HTML and CSS norms?
Yes.

The norms are respected in Google Groups website, and actually, once you have subscribed to a Google Groups, you do not need to come back to the website, as you can directly discuss from your email box.

Unique Features

Key points and major differences that make Google Groups unique:

  • Google Groups is not a classic forum software, so obviously, it provides specific features of its domain. Replying from your email address is for example, really useful and convenient.

Final Words


Great!

Yes, it's true, Google Groups is not a real and classic forum software. This is not the common representation we have of this kind of software, and therefore, it could be surprising to review it for what it is not primarily intended.

However, we could not forget that a forum software exists to support the messages and discussions that are written by a community of persons, and that there is not a single way to do it. Google Groups, and the mailing list system in general, are really well designed to do it as well, and the improvements that Google brought to the classic ML are really impressive, more particularly when it is coupled with GMail and other powerful Google services (Maps, Chat, Documents,...)

The Google Groups website is simple, well organized and easy to understand, and, for the first time, it lets you choose your own way to communicate with your friend: web interface, email client,... This is pretty rare, more particularly when you compare this to other forum softwares that try to recreate personal message box while you already have a primary one: your email address.

Google Groups is really good for this point as well: it makes you control your data at a central place, and you won't have to set your profile information and post your avatar picture for the 80th times, each time you join a community.

We haven't talked a lot about the common features of a forum software, like posting message, administrating content, managing users, but it's simply because this is naturally simple and really ergonomic in Google Groups. Simplicity and ease of use have always been the best point of Google products, and Google Groups follows really well this strategy.

We would advice using this software if you haven't in mind a clear and definitive idea of what a forum should be, because it is so far from a classic forum software that it could not suit your predefined needs. If you do not have this problem, then you will find in Google Groups a perfect and a really easy way to support and increase your community around your favorite subjects of discussions.

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Comments (4)

dont use it, googles conneted

dont use it, googles conneted with the gov

Top

Is it possible to embed

Is it possible to embed Google Group comments into an external website and update automatically?

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We haven't talked a lot about

We haven't talked a lot about the common features of a forum software, like posting message, administrating content, managing users, but it's simply because this is naturally simple and really ergonomic in Google Groups. Simplicity and ease of use have always been the best point of Google products, and Google Groups follows really well this strategy.

Top

Really this one is a very

Really this one is a very good application which people could use on their blogs or websites. This always refers to relevant text ads on which a user can trust.

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  Top Top