Facebook Groups Goes Gangbusters, Gets Privacy Tweaks

Facebook rolled out several updates to its popular Groups feature today, heeding users’ requests for more control over what they share with whom.

By some metrics, Facebook’s Groups feature has been a great success since its October 2010 launch. More than 50 million groups have been created in the past six months, making Groups one of Facebook’s fastest-growing products ever, product director Peter Deng told me today. But Groups also garnered a fair share of criticism. For a feature that was supposedly meant to facilitate smaller-scale interactions with family and close friends, many users found Groups to be woefully lacking in privacy controls.

With today’s announcement, Facebook tackles those privacy complaints and adds some user-requested features. The updates essentially fall into four categories:

1. New admin controls
Group owners can now opt to pre-approve all potential new members before they’re added to the group. Prior to this update, any group member could add additional members.

2. Photo albums
Facebook groups can now host entire albums. Prior to this update, users could only upload single photos to groups.

2. Questions within Groups
Users can now use Facebook Questions to poll other members of a specific group.

4. “Send” button
“Send” is basically a more targeted “Like” button that allows people to share things they find on the web with a specific group. The Send button debuts Monday across 50 websites including People.com, Orbitz, the Huffington Post and Gilt Groupe.

Facebook has a tendency to push the envelop on privacy and then take a few small steps back. But to me, the Groups updates could be evidence of Facebook’s maturation as a company, catering to users who want to be more nuanced with how they share on the site. The changes show that Facebook is serious about taking product development cues from all types of users, rather than just using its technology to constantly evangelize the merits of public sharing. “People are sharing more, but we realize there are different conversations that are to be had. Sometimes they’re with everyone,” Deng said. “But there are some things [users] just want to share with family.”