Wednesday, January 9, 2013

13 Google Groups Tips for 2013: Part 1 of 3

Google Groups is a powerful, flexible tool that your organization can use for a variety of interesting purposes.  Google Groups is often under-utilized because there are many different ways to use this tool.  Unless you take a step back to learn about Google Groups, you might miss out on functionality that can save you time, effort, and ultimately money.

This series of articles will cover 13 tips for getting the most out of Google Groups so you can start off 2013 by maximizing it's potential.



Tip #1: Google Groups Basics

Ask four different people what Google Groups is and you may get four completely different responses, and all could be true.  Consider the following:
  • Google Groups is a virtual inbox / virtual account tool
  • Google Groups is a email mailing list / distribution list tool
  • Google Groups is a forum tool
  • Google Groups is a resource access tool
Google Groups is all this and more!

Virtual Inboxes

Google Groups can be configured to create a "virtual inbox" so  multiple people can receive email sent to one address.  For example, consider "sales@example.com" or "admissions@yourschool.edu."  When somebody on the Internet sends an email to those "virtual accounts," a group of members can receive a copy of that email.

Mailing Lists

Google Groups can be configured to provide mailing list or distribution list functionality.  That is, consider a team of people working together on a project.  Instead of emailing each member directly, the mailing list can be sent a message so that everyone on the list will receive a copy.  Other members can hit reply and be assured that the entire group will be kept "in the loop."

Forums

Google Groups can be configured to provide an online forum where users can interact with each other, answer questions, and share knowledge.  Google Groups doesn't have to send users email messages whenever somebody posts to the list; individual users can receive individual messages emailed to them, receive batches of messages (e.g., "digests"), or not receive any email at all.

Resource Control

Google Groups can be configured to control access to resources.  That is, resources like Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Google Presentations, Google Drawings, Google Sites, printers shared via Google Cloud Print, and files stored in Google Drive can be shared to a Google Group.  That way, all members of that Google Group have access to those resources.

One of the great things about Google Groups as compared to mailing list software packages (like Sympa, Majordomo, etc.)  and forum packages (like phpBB, bbPress, etc.) is that Google Groups is provided as a part of Google Apps and is hosted by Google.  As a result, there is no need to upgrade software, apply patches, maintain and administer servers, etc.  Also, if you have Google Apps, you can use Google Groups at no additional charge!

To access Google Groups, make sure that Google Groups has been enabled for your Google Apps domain. Then, click on the "Groups" link from the Global Navigation Bar at the top of any Google Apps tool.

Tip #2: Google Group Membership

Specify who can join a Google Group
Specify who can join a Google Group
Users can become members of groups in a variety of different ways:
  • Invitation -- a manager can invite someone to join
  • Direct Add -- a manager can simply add another user to the group
  • Users can join -- group managers can restrict who is allowed to join the group or require people to ask  to join the group (approval by the group's owner is needed).  Permission to join the group can be based on whether or not the user is already in the organization or not (e.g., users of the domain can be allowed to join)
  • GADS -- the Google Apps Directory Sync (GADS) tool, provided by Google, can be used to synchronize group membership with an organization's directory service, like LDAP or Microsoft Active Directory.
  • API -- Google provides programmatic access to the groups data through well-documented Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), so you can write a program to manage group membership, tie it to a database, or whatever you want.
So, if you want to configure a group to be a private mailing list where only users who are invited by members can join, Google Groups can handle that for you.  If you want a group that anybody on the Internet can join without requiring an invitation or approval, Google Groups can handle that, too!

Tip #3: Use Roles and Permissions to Customize your Group

Google Groups can be configured to allow various users to do various things; that is, a Google Group can allow all members to post messages, but only allow certain users to invite users, moderate posts, and so on.  Some of the permissions that can be assigned include:
  • Adding members
  • Approving members
  • Approving messages
  • Banning users
  • Deleting messages
  • Deleting topics
  • Edit other users' messages
  • Edit own messages
  • Invite members
  • Modify members
  • Post messages
  • View messages

Many other permissions exist that further add to the richness of the Google Groups permissions system.

Closely tied to the concept of permissions are roles.  A role is a collection of permissions.  For example, there can be a role that has the permission to approve and delete messages, but not edit group membership or invite new users.

Google Groups comes with several roles by default, including:
  • Owner
  • Manager
  • Member
Groups can also have additional, custom roles.  For example, consider that managers can, by default, approve messages and add members (along with other permissions), however you may want to allow some users to approve messages, but not add members.  To accomplish this, create a new role (e.g., "moderators") and give that role permission to approve messages, without permission to add members.

Tip #4: Archive Messages Sent to the Group

Google Groups can be configured to retain archives of messages that are sent to the group.  That way, members can review messages previously sent to the group.  This conveniently helps new group members get up to speed quickly by reading this history, as the archive becomes a knowledge store of everything that has been discussed through the group.

If message archiving is disabled for the group, messages that are not archived can only be accessible for a limited time after being posted.

The option to disable message archiving is found under "Information" then "Content Control" under the group management interface.


Tip #5: Moderate Messages

Make sure that messages sent to or posted to your Google Groups are relevant and on-topic; if a group receives messages that are off-topic, an otherwise productive conversation can be disrupted.  To prevent this from happening, Google Groups provides a message moderation mechanism.  When a message is sent to moderation, it isn't visible to the other members of the group until a moderator (e.g., an owner, a manager, or someone with a role that has "accept messages privilege") accepts it.

Google Groups Message Moderation Options
Google Groups Message Moderation Options
A variety of moderation settings exist for controlling which messages are moderated.  A group can be configured to moderate all messages, moderate messages from non-members, or moderate messages from new members.  Messages that Google suspects to be spam can be automatically identified and sent to moderation (or rejected!) regardless of other group settings.


Part 2 and part 3 will cover tips 5-13 for helping you get the most out of Google Groups!

-- Wes Dean, a Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist and a Google Apps Trusted Tester, is Principal of KDA Web Technologies, a Google Apps Authorized Reseller. To learn how Wes and KDA Web Technologies can help you, go to http://www.kdaweb.com/.