Google Groups is the application within Google Apps that can be used to create mailing lists and to share Docs, Calendars, and Sites with groups of people. Groups can either be administered by Google Apps only, or "User Managed Groups" can be enabled so that individual users can create and manage their own distribution lists. Groups can also be used as a workaround for shared mailboxes and for managing small external mailing lists and communications.
One point of confusion around Google Groups is that Google has three different applications within Google Apps that have the word "Groups" in the title.
- User Managed Google Groups: This is the standalone Google Apps product that allows users to create and manage their own distribution lists.
- Groups Section of Admin Control Panel: This is the section of the Google Admin Control Panel where administrators can create distribution lists and manage group membership.
- Personal contact groups: Users can create personal contact groups within their Gmail Contact Manager. These groups can only be used by the user who created the group.
Originally Google developed Groups as a community management platform for clubs, organizations, and events. Google Apps added a separate Groups function that could only be managed by the Admins.
As Google began to differentiate Google Apps for Business (which was called Google Apps Premier) from their free Google Apps Product (Google Apps Standard) they released the User Created Google Groups product which was a combination of the interface of the consumer Google Groups product and the internal mailing list function.
Here is a video explaining Google Groups:
Cheers for Google Groups
Google Groups enables group members to select one of four subscription options for Group messages. This empowers users to decide how they want their group's messages to flow into their mailbox. Users will probably choose "email" delivery for groups set up as shared mailboxes and "Abridges Email" or "No Email" for social or recreational groups.
Admin control over User Created Groups
If a Google Apps Admin decided to enable User Created Groups he or she does not have to give up all control. The Admin can restrict Group Usage so that users can or cannot invite users to groups outside the domain. The admin can also append a unique identifier to the Group names so that they can be easily identifiable. All user-created Groups also show up in the Groups section of the Admin Control Panel so that the Admin can manage a group if the group owners are absent.
Sharing Calendar Events, Docs and Sites
Group mailing lists are a great way to quickly share a calendar, calendar event, Google Docs, Google Doc Collection or a Google Site without having to manually add each person's email address.
Jeers for Google Groups
The interface for Google Groups looks nothing like the interface for any other Google Applications. Not only does the user interface not match, but the vocabulary doesn't match other parts of Google Apps. For example, there is a section called "Access Settings". In Google Docs this type of setting is called "Visibility Settings". The foreign UI and terms can be confusing for general end users.
No use cases when creating Google Groups
When a user creates a new Google Group they are presented with four different group types.
These group types define the access levels and restrictions for the group. Unfortunately, the Group Names and Descriptions do not in themselves guide users about what type of group to create. Google should provide real-life examples of how these groups are used. For example: "Choose Team if you are creating one of the following types of group - Department Mailing List, Project Mailing List, Team List or Shared Mailbox".
Disconnect between Groups and Gmail
There is a disconnect between Google Groups and the Gmail inbox. If a user wants to see Group content they need to open up a separate Group application or create a Filter to filter all group messages into a certain label. Users also must setup a "reply-as" account if they want to be able to reply on behalf of a group email address.
The Gmail and Groups team should create some type of gadget that connects the data and messages in Google Groups to the Gmail mailbox. Google Groups should also provide an option so that if a Group is set up as a shared mailbox account, the reply-from address is automatically added to Gmail.
Ultimately a mailing list function is necessary for Google Apps users and Google Groups may fit that need. However, the poor user interface, unhelpful nomenclature and the awkward integration of Gmail and Groups prevent this tool from doing more than acting as an internal mailing list application.
Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Lynda.com. Visit Susan at her website http://susancline.com/ or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusan.