Social networking software

Facebook's New Groups: 5 Things You Need To Know

Should you be able to add your friends to a Facebook Group without their permission? That's the question some critics are asking after several prominent tech bloggers were added to a group without their consent. Facebook's new Groups feature allows any of your Facebook friends to add you to a group where you can privately share content such as photos, opinions, events, and text documents with others.

It all started when TechCrunch's Michael Arrington and tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis were added to a new Facebook Group called NAMBLA-- an acronym for the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Arrington later added Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the group.

While the NAMBLA group was clearly a joke, Calacanis wasn't laughing. He fired off an e-mail to Zuckerberg, also posted on Calacanis' blog, arguing that people should have the ability to opt-in to new groups and not only opt-out.

Would it better if Groups were opt-in instead of opt-out? Most definitely, but other Facebook features are far worse as opt-out models instead of opt-in. Adding someone to a group is not as bad as revealing someone's location without their permission through Facebook Places. Or the fact that you can expose a friend's Facebook data to third parties just by adding an application to your profile.

Nevertheless, the new Groups feature, while valuable, could also become a pain. Here are 5 things you need to know about Facebook's new Groups feature.

Friends Only

Since only your Facebook friends can add you to groups, using Facebook as a place to connect with people you actually know becomes more important than ever. Facebook is assuming that your real friends won't use this new power maliciously to add you to groups that might embarrass you, according to Search Engine Land.

If you have 1000 Facebook friends, but you actually know only half of them, the chances you'll be added to groups you don't want to be a part of are probably pretty high. This could expose you to malicious links to phishing sites and other types of Facebook malware. Then again, friending people you didn't know was probably putting you at risk for malicious behavior long before the new groups feature appeared.

The Nuclear Option

Everyone probably knows a few jokers who might think it's funny to add you to a group with a controversial title. But if there's a trend to add people to joke groups, my guess is these pranks will die off pretty quickly.   If one of your friends doesn't cut it out with the joke groups, you always have the option to unsubscribe. In fact, unsubscribing is more powerful than you might realize.

When Arrington added Zuckerberg to the NAMBLA joke group, the Facebook CEO unsubscribed. Not only did that keep Zuckerberg out of NAMBLA, but it also blocked Arrington from ever adding Zuckerberg to another group.

That might be a bit extreme, but it shows that Facebook wants you to make prudent choices about the groups you pull your friends into. Again, however, I have to reiterate there's no question it would be better to opt-in to a new group rather than opt-out.

No Crowd Control

Anyone in a Facebook Group can add their Facebook friends to a group, which could quickly get out of hand if you wanted to limit a group's size. The group administrator does, however, have the power to delete members and even ban them from the group permanently.

When starting a new group it might be wise to lay down the ground rules with other members if you want to minimize its size.

E-mail Mania

Groups Notifications (click to enlarge)
A lot of early critics are complaining that e-mail notifications for a new group can quickly fill up your inbox. By default, you will get an e-mail for every action taken in a group. To change this, click on "Edit Notifications" or "Edit Settings" in the top right corner of the group page. When the pop-up window appears uncheck the box next to "send email notifications to."

You can also control what kind of Facebook notifications appear on your newsfeed page from this window. Choices include receiving notifications for all group posts or comments, only new posts by group members, only posts by your Facebook friends in that group, or only posts that you've written or commented on.

Still a Little Buggy

In my tests, the new Groups feature had some strange behavior. Adding new members to a group, for example, often produced error messages. Sometimes the person I wanted to add would be added anyway, sometimes they wouldn't.

I am also having difficulty creating new text documents in groups. However, these problems might be due to the fact that the new functionality hasn't actually rolled out to my account yet. Instead, I used a workaround by going to Facebook.com/groups and creating a new group from there by clicking on "Create Group."

Have you tried out the new Facebook Groups? Does it bother you that others can automatically add you? Let us know in the comments.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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