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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Groups and You

The internet has given birth to something not necessarily new.  It's been around for ages, but the internet gives us the instant gratification of responses through email.  We're talking about groups.  Online discussion groups.  The general theme of a group is in such a variety that one can find literally ANYTHING they like, and join a group about it.  This can be both good and bad, but mostly good.  However, there are some things that one should know and consider before joining a group.

The first thing to consider is if you are going to actively participate.  Will you simply be on the sidelines, or will you be actively sending messages to the group for EVERYONE in that group to read?  Many groups lay dormant for many months before activity picks up, then all sorts of emails from that group come pouring in, and it can seem overwhelming.  Second, is this the kind of general topic you are passionate about or are you just in there to prank people?  Let's be honest here, there are folks who are in a group just to be an annoyance, or have some other devious agenda on their mind.

Whether you are a moderator, or you are simply participating, here's some general ideas to keep in mind when joining a group.

1) Email - Yes, when joining a group this means you WILL be receiving (by default) EVERY piece of email that is sent to the group.  Will this be something that might overwhelm you?  Do you have a personal email account that wouldn't be affected by this?  If not, you may want to create one specifically for that group.

2) Settings - Almost every online group that I've come across have settings for individual members.  These settings can help alleviate the congestion in your email inbox by selecting your group's equivalent of "Special Notices Only" "Web Only Access", and "Digest Messages"  Just a quick note about Digest emails.  These are emails that compile a wealth of emails that have been sent to the group.  This can be set to either daily, weekly, or monthly depending on what service you are using, i.e. Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, etc.  This can be very useful if you want to avoid a mess in your email inbox.  However, if you feel you must discontinue your participation in the group, most of the group sites allow you to unsubscribe in one of many different ways.  The first is through email, and usually that information is provided through the email messages you receive.  The second option is through the group site (e.g.

3) (For Moderators) Controls - You can set up a function on the group where a file/email message is sent out on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis where it can contain information on general group objectives, how to utilize member tools, and perhaps even a guideline list if you must moderate discussions.  Controls can also help limit the messages sent by your membership, or even have it where messages must be approved when it comes to individual member posts.

4) (For Moderators) Events - Perhaps a better way to get people to participate without clogging each other's email inbox is to schedule an online interactive discussion.  Some group sites allow for online chat rooms specifically for your group.  Alternatively, you can set up a chat that is NOT on your website or the group site.   There are a number of alternatives available.

5) (For everyone) Conversations - Try to enjoy the conversations, and remember that the reason you joined or created a group was to get people together for a common cause.  However, some conversations can get a little out of hand.  If a message must be sent and replied by someone specifically, it may be a better idea to ask the person individually if you may email them directly, instead of airing your comment to them in such a public forum.  Remember, the goal of a group is to promote a common idea, but if the conversations get too out of hand, it can easily overwhelm a new member.

Moderators, don't forget that as a moderator, you do have the authority to delete messages or deny/reject memberships and messages as you see fit, but don't abuse this function.  People join groups for the purpose of sharing their ideas about the general discussion, but they will quickly leave if they feel their messages are being blocked unjustly.  Have ready a list of reasons why you might reject a message or a membership, and give advice on how they can overcome this hurdle.

It should go without saying that some discussions can get abusive when they don't need to be.  Try to establish some general guidelines for members, and make it clear that members have an obligation to keep the conversations going positively, smoothly, and most of all fun for everyone to participate in.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!