Wednesday, January 30, 2013

13 Google Groups Tips for 2013: Part 3 of 3

Google Groups is a powerful, flexible tool that can be used to amplify your organization's ability to communicate both internally and externally.

This is Part 3 of 3 covering 13 tips for getting the most out of Google Groups.

Part 1 covered Google Groups basics, Google Groups membership concepts, using group roles and permissions, archiving messages that are sent to the group, and moderating messages.

Part 2 covered organizing messages using topics, categories, category groups, and tags; customizing email options; and using the Google Apps Directory Sync (GADS) tool to create Google Groups, synchronizing their membership with an organization's local directory system, and watching a group's bouncing email addresses.

Tip #10: Use a Group for Resource Access Control

Google Groups can be targets for sharing resources such as Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Google Presentations, Google Drawings, Google Sites, and arbitrary files stored in Google Drive.  That is, if you have something you want to share with a Google Group, you can share that resource like you normally would, but use the email address of the group instead of the individual people.

Sharing Files in Google Drive / Google Docs with a Google Group
Sharing Files in Google Drive / Google Docs with a Google Group
The benefit of sharing with a Google Group instead of individual users is that as membership in the group changes, the users who have access to the resources shared with that group will automatically change as well.  This works particularly well when group membership is synchronized with an organization's directory service using GADS, the Google Apps Directory Sync.  More on this topic was covered in Part 2 of this series.

The Google Cloud Print service is also integrated with Google Groups.  That is, you can create a Google Group for the sole purpose of sharing a printer using Google Cloud Print with that group.  Once the printer is shared, all of the members of the group can print to that printer using Google Cloud Print!

So, a good example of sharing resources could be with an organization's web development team.  As new members are added to the team, they're added to the team's Google Group.  The web sites that the team is responsible for maintaining are shared with the group, as are the team's documentation base.  As soon as the new member is added to the group, they can edit the web site, they can read the private, internal documentation, and they're included in the team's mailing list (along with any archives, if configured).  Similarly, if a member of the web development team transfers to another part of the organization, they can be removed from the team's Google Group; once that happens, their access to the team's documentation, web site, etc., are all revoked.  If GADS is used to maintain group membership, this will all happen automatically as changes in the organization's directory service happen.

Tip #11: Control Group Creation

By default, only Google Apps domain administrators can create Google Groups.  However, Google Groups can be configured so that anyone in the organization can be allowed to create new groups.  Google Groups can even be configured so that arbitrary members of the public can create new groups.

To change who can create a group, a Google Apps domain administrator needs to go to the Google Apps domain control panel to make that change.

Google Groups Settings from the Google Apps Domain Control Panel
Google Groups Settings from the Google Apps Domain Control Panel

Additionally, Google Groups can be configured so that new groups are created with a suffix so that groups don't conflict with user accounts in the domain.  For example, if a suffix of "-list" is specified for groups in the "" domain, then the email address of a newly created group of "mygroup" would be "" instead of "" (which wold be the address if no suffix were specified).

Google Apps domain administrators can still use the Google Apps domain control panel to create groups without this suffix.  So, for example, if the suffix for the "" domain is specified as "-group" then a Google Apps domain administrator can create a "webmaster" group with an email address of "" despite the "-group" suffix setting.

Also, Google Apps domain administrators can prohibit outside users (e.g., users who are not a part of the organization and do not have an account in the organization's domain) from accessing any of the Google Groups for this organization.  This setting is the widest level of access that is permissible by any group in the domain; individual groups can be configured to a narrower access level (e.g., this setting can allow groups that can be accessed by the public, but individual groups can still be configured to be accessible by only members of the organization).

Tip #12: Embed a Group into a Web Page or a Google Site

Google Groups can be embedded into web pages or Google Sites.  That way, end-users won't need to visit Google Groups to browse your group's discussions.

To embed a Google Group into a web page, Google provides an iframe and some Javascript code that can be placed in the HTML of the web page.  In fact, the code Google provides already has the information specific to your group already included, so all you have to do is cut and paste!  The code is found on the group's management screen under "General Information" (which is under the "Information" section).

Embedding a Google Group into a Google Site
Embedding a Google Group into a Google Site

Google Groups can also be embedded into Google Sites.  To do this, edit the page you want to embed the group on in Google Sites, navigate to the Insert menu and click on "Group."  In the resulting dialog, paste in the URL to your Google Group.  That's it!

Tip #13: Use Google Groups as a Forum Platform

Google Groups is often thought of for distributing email to mailing lists, but it also provides interesting functionality.

Using Google Groups as a Forum Platform
Using Google Groups as a Forum Platform

By using Google Groups as a forum, not only do you allow users to send messages and share resources, but you also provide a mechanism for users to communicate through the web without email.

There are a variety of Google Groups features that are especially useful for forums, including the ability to lock discussions (e.g., close the conversation), make discussions sticky (so they're always at the top of the list), "me too!" posts, post announcements (as opposed to questions), and much more.

Forums are a great tool for allowing users to form a community.  This community can be protected from abuse and misuse by restricting access or membership, moderating messages, assigning moderators, and so on.  Public forums are also a great way for other people to share their thoughts and ideas about a common topic.  For example, an organization that makes a product can create a product support forum using Google Groups; when users run into problems, they can join and post to the forum and other users can respond.  This has the potential to help an organization provide support for a product at a fraction of the cost of having users contact support staff at the organization directly.

Bonus Tip: Integrate Tools with Google Groups Using APIs

Google provides a number of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that can be used to interact with Google Groups.  Three of the most important APIs are:

  • Google Apps - Provisioning -- Create groups, modify membership, modify owners
  • Google Apps - Google Groups Migration -- Migrate messages (email) to a Google Group
  • Google Apps - Google Groups Settings -- Modify group settings

There are also a number of libraries that can be used to simplify development.  There are libraries (and sample code!) for the Google Apps Provisioning API, for example, in Java, Python, .NET, and PHP.  Moreover, Google provides examples of raw HTTP calls, so libraries can be built for other environments.

Integration with Google Groups is possible at any number of points from here.  For example, it's possible to develop a third-party web application that queries a Google Group for the membership of a user as they authenticate to the application.  It's possible to share a resource (e.g., a file stored in Google Drive) with a Google Group.  Then, integrate a payment processing system with the Google Group using an API so that when the user purchases a product, they're automatically given access to the file -- the product -- that happens to be stored in Google Drive.  As an added benefit, owners of the Google Group can send a message to all of their customers simply by sending a message to the Google Group.

The sky's the limit when it comes to integrating tools with Google Groups!

API documentation links:

Google Groups is a tremendous tool that can facilitate an organization's communication.  There are lots of options that provide great flexibility and functionality.  Google Groups can even be integrated with your organization's applications using APIs.  The only limit to what you can do with Google Groups is your imagination!

-- 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

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