Google Groups Features and Restrictions Examination



Introduction

This document shortly describes some of the features, requirements and
restrictions in Google Groups. It also tells what Google Groups
doesn't have and some historical information about Google Groups and
the Usenet.

Features

Google Groups offers many features for the user and for a discussion
group. The user has a main page having for example a list of groups
that person has subscribed to and information about recent activity.
The user may also have a profile and favorites. A discussion group can
have for example discussions, pages, files, feeds and settings for who
can view the group, who can participate in discussions and settings
for changing the appearance of the group.

User

The user has access for example to his/her own main page, profile,
favorites, membership management page, group directory, and of course
to thousands of discussion groups.

User's Main Page

When you are signed in to Google Groups and you go to the Google
Groups main page, at the top of the page you should see the "My
Groups", "Favorites", "Profile", "Help", "My Account", and "Sign out"
links. In the middle of the page you should see a list of the Google
Groups discussion groups and Usenet newsgroups you have subscribed to.
The group list should also show information about how many times a
group has been viewed and how many new messages have been posted since
you last visited the group. Below the group list there should be a
small "Manage my memberships" link and under that the "Explore groups"
area where you can search for a group or go to the group directory.
And at the bottom right hand side there is the "My profile & stats"
area, which shows some statistics about your activity for the last
seven days.

  Top of the Google Groups main page
Picture 1. Top of the Google Groups main page.

  Bottom of the Google Groups main page
Picture 2. Bottom of the Google Groups main page.

Favorites

On the "Favorites" page you can see the list of discussions you have
marked to follow via web or email or both. Maximum number of
bookmarked discussions seems to be 200 (February 2007).

  Google Groups Favorites
Picture 3. Google Groups Favorites.

Profile

On the "Profile" page you can see your profile information including
list of all the groups you have participated in inside the selection
box, a list of some of the most recent discussions and a some sort of
calendar view of all your messages sorted by month and year. You may
change some of the information (location, web address, etc.) by
clicking the "edit" link at the top of the page. The maximum
dimensions for the profile picture seem to be 50 pixels x 50 pixels.

  Profile page for a Google Groups user
Picture 4. Profile page for a Google Groups user.

Manage My Memberships

On the Manage my memberships page you can set your nickname and
subscription type for all the groups you have subscribed to. If you
don't want to be invited or added to groups, you can select the
appropriate settings and push the "Save invitation preferences" button
below them.

  Manage my memberships page
Picture 5. Manage my memberships page.

Group Directory

On the Group directory page the groups have been organized by topic,
region, language, activity and number of members. If you only want to
look at the Usenet newsgroups, click the "Browse all of Usenet" link.

  Group directory
Picture 6. Group directory.

Discussion Group

A Google Groups discussion group has for example a web site with a
main page, about page, a URL (web address), an email address, feeds
and members. Depending on how the group is configured, the group also
has sections for discussions, editable pages, uploaded files, and
members. For group owners and managers there is also a section for
settings.

Group Main Page

The main page of a group shows the name of the group, sections for
the group (discussions, pages, files), some group info, and links to
the about page, membership page and invitation page. If you want to
search for previous discussions, you can use the "Search this group"
button and the text field next to it. If the user happens to be the
owner or manager of the group, there should also be links to group
settings and management tasks.

  Main page of a group
Picture 7. Main page of a group.

About Page

From the About page you can find information that tells for example
the number of members, how much activity it has, group description,
web site address (if the group is used as a forum for a web site),
categories (if categories have been defined for the group), access
information (who can access the group contents, who can join, who can
post, is the group moderated, etc.). From the about page you find the
group email address to post messages to the discussions section of
the group. There are also a link to contact the group owner and a link
for a page for different kind of feeds for the group.

  About page for a group
Picture 8. About page for a group.

Group Members

A Google Groups discussion group has at least one member. That member
is the owner of the group. In addition to that, a group may also have
manager-members and only-members. Managers can't change the group
settings as much as the owner can, but managers can for example remove
messages sent to the group. Depending on the group settings, all
members may be able post messages, create pages and upload files.

  Group members of a group
Picture 9. Group members of a group.

Group Settings

To be able to change all the settings of your group, you need to be
signed in to Google Groups using the email address that is chosen to
be the owner of the group. Then go to the main page of the group and
click the "Group settings" link on the right hand side of the page.
You should see seven tabs: "General", "Access", "Appearance",
"Navigation", "Email delivery", "Categories", and "Advanced". From
those tabs you can change various aspects of your group. Below are
some examples how you can modify your group to suite your needs:

* Change the name, email address, URL (web address), and description
  of your group ("General" tab).
* Private group (use the "Only members can view group content" setting
  with the "People have to be invited" or "People can request an
  invitation to join" setting on the "Access" tab).
* Announcement only group (change the "Who can post messages?" setting
  to "Managers only" on the "Access" tab and the "Replies to messages"
  setting to "Replies are sent to the author of the message" or
  "Replies are sent to the owners of the group" on the "Email
   delivery" tab).
* Moderated group (change the "Message moderation" setting to "All
  messages are held for moderation" or select "No moderation -
  messages are delivered directly" setting and then the "Messages from
  new members are moderated" if you want to moderate the first few
  messages posted by new members).
* Change the look of the group by choosing a ready made look or
  change individual elements of the group, such as the font, text
  styles and colors in different parts of the group (on the
  "Appearance" tab).
* Decide which sections (discussions, pages, files, members list) of
  the group are shown on the main page of the group ("Navigation"
  tab).

  "Access" tab for the settings of a group
Picture 10. "Access" tab for the settings of a group.

Writing Messages

You can discuss using an email client program (e.g. Outlook Express
or Mozilla Thunderbird) if you are using the "Email" setting on the
"Edit my membership" page for the group you are using. You can also
discuss by using the Google Groups web interface of the group using a
web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera). The
current maximum size of a message (including attachments) seems to be
1 MB. File system and encoding issues lower the actual size limit. You
can only use file attachments with email client programs and you need
to use the file attachment function of your email client program (or
service), so you probably can't simply copy and paste files to the
message area of your email messages. If you are having trouble
sending, seeing and receiving your messages, see the unofficial
troubleshooting guide for some tips and hints.

Discussion Topic Page

There are some functions you can use on a discussion topic page. You
can add a discussion to your Google Groups Favorites page by clicking
the white star so that it changes to yellow (to access the Google
Groups Favorites, click the "Favorites" link at the top of any Google
Groups page when you are signed in). On a discussion page you can also
select the "More options" link at the top of the page to see some
hidden options. For example, you can select the "Show message list"
link to see a "tree view" having a message list on the left side of
the page (and you can also switch back to the initial "non-tree
view"). You can switch to "Fixed text" if a message shows for example
programming code or ASCII art. And if you want to get notified about
new messages via email when someone posts a new message, select the
"Email updates to me" link (works only with non-Usenet groups).

  Discussion topic page with a message list on the left side of the page and showing more options
Picture 11. Discussion topic page with a message list on the left side of the page and showing more options.

Message Information

You may also get more information and options for a message on a
discussion. Click the "More options" link next to the point of time of
the message. You should see the local time of the poster. You should
be able to reply in group or reply to author (there is a 60 day time
limit for replying in group so that the discussions don't get too
long and useless, because the longer the discussion gets, the less
probably anyone will read all the messages anyway). Other options
should be "Forward", "Print", "Individual message", "Report this
message", and "Find messages by this author". If you are the poster of
the message or if you own or manage the group, you should be able to
remove the message. If the group is not an official Google discussion
group, you also should see the "Show original" link, which shows the
message in its original format with message headers (for example
"From:", "To:", "Subject:" and "Message-ID:"). Also, if the group is
not an official Google discussion group, the email address of a poster
should be shown. Because spammers use automatic bots to harvest email
addresses from web pages, the email address has three dots in it.
Click the three underlined dots and write the text asked on the so
called Captcha page to unlock (unmunge/uncloack) the email address.

  Original format view for a Usenet newsgroup article
Picture 12. Original format view for a Usenet newsgroup article.

Pages

A group may have pages that can be edited by all group members or only
by managers. Editable pages can be used for example in projects where
many people need to edit the same text. There is no option to create
other kind of documents such as spreadsheet documents, but you can
edit spreadsheets online for example with Google Docs & Spreadsheets
(which is not integrated with Google Groups (February 2007)).


  Editing a page
Picture 13. Editing a page.

Files

With Google Groups you can upload at least office documents (Word,
OpenOffice.org, PDF, etc.), pictures (bmp, gif, jpg, etc.) and zip
files (which may have directories and files inside them). The maximum
size of an uploaded file seems to be 10 MB (file system and encoding
issues decrease the actual limit). The quota (total file usage) should
be shown at the bottom of the uploaded files page and it is 100 MB
(February 2007). If you are having trouble uploading files or viewing
them and if you have Internet Explorer, try adding the international
Google domain (google.com), your local national domain (google.co.uk)
and the googlegroups.com domain that is used with the uploaded files
section of Google Groups to the Trusted Sites section in Internet
Explorer (go to "Tools", "Internet Options", "Security").

  Uploaded files section
Picture 14. Uploaded files section.

Requirements

Google Groups seems to support some of the most used web browsers such
as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Opera, but there can be
different problems with different web browsers, so if you can't for
example edit a page, try a different web browser.

Restrictions

Messages: The size limit for a single message seems to be 1 MB. There
doesn't seem to be a restriction for how many messages your group can
contain, but there are restrictions how many posts a user can post in
a short period of time to somewhat protect the groups for example from
automatic bots and automatic vacation messages, which could flood a
group.

Editable pages: The size limit for editable pages seems to be about 20
KB without getting error messages and about 700 KB, but with error
messages. When you edit the HTML source of pages, you can't use all
the HTML tags and elements such as <bgsound>, <embed>, <form>,
<iframe>, <object> and <script>, because they will get removed, so you
can't for example embed videos to pages. There was a similar kind of
problem with Google Page Creator in its early stages, so maybe the
editable pages in Google Groups might have an option to use those tags
in the future, or maybe you need to start using for example Google
Page Creator. Google doesn't usually tell about future plans, so
probably only time will tell what you will be able to do in the future
with the editable pages in Google Groups.

Uploaded files: The size limit for a single uploaded file seems to be
10 MB and quota for all the uploaded files is 100 MB. When uploading a
file, there might be a session time-out, which means that with a slow
internet connection you might not be able to upload files that are
close to the 10 MB limit. Also, keep in mind that even if your
internet connection is fast enough there might be problems in one of
the cables or servers between your system and Google.

What Google Groups Doesn't Have

A Google Groups discussion group doesn't have for example a calendar,
a blog, chat function or a section for spreadsheets. Even though
Google Groups isn't integrated with other Google services you could
use Google Calendar for a calendar, Blogger for blogging, Google Talk
or Gmail for chatting and Google Docs & Spreadsheets for spreadsheets.

The editable pages seem to be meant for a basic way for many people to
share information and co-work on the same subject (for example in work
or school projects) and the uploaded files section only has a limited
quota, so if your group members are interested in a more professional
way of co-working with documents they could use Google Docs &
Spreadsheets.

And if your group members are interested in expressing themselves more
thoroughly with megabytes worth of content (pictures, music, videos,
pages, etc.), each of them could use their own Google Page Creator
account for that purpose and tell about their own web site with links
on their profiles and in discussions (you need to get a Gmail account
to be able to sign up for a Google Page Creator account). If the group
members only want to share their photos, they could use Picasa Web
Albums for that purpose. That way they can use the same Google account
for many different purposes without having the need to sign in to many
services while using Google Groups.

Current version

At the time of writing this document (February 2007) Google Groups is
now in its third version, so you can call it Google Groups 3.

History

In 1979 the Usenet was created. Because Usenet newsgroup messages
existed only for a few weeks on many Usenet news servers, DejaNews
started archiving Usenet newsgroup messages. Google acquired DejaNews
in February 2001. The first version of Google Groups (GG1) was a
Usenet newsgroup archive and you could also post Usenet newsgroup
messages with it. Google Groups contained more than 845 million
archived newsgroup messages in February 2004. Google Groups 2 (GG2)
was published as Beta in May 2004. With Google Groups 2 you were able
to create your own Google Groups discussion groups. Many Usenet fans
liked the old and simple GG1 interface more, but by the end of July
2005 all the Google Groups 1 sites were replaced by GG2 sites. Google
Groups 3 (GG3) was introduced as Beta in October 2006. It replaced
most of the GG2 sites in January 2007. With Google Groups 3 you can
create editable pages, upload files and change the outlook of your
group.


Usenet

Because in 1970s many internet connections were slower than in 2000s,
Usenet newsgroups were meant for text-only discussions (there are also
binary newsgroups for files, such as pictures, music, videos, etc.),
so text-only discussions were a fast enough way of discussing with
people. Newsgroups are supposed to be used with Usenet newsreader
client applications (e.g. Outlook Express and Mozilla Thunderbird),
but you can also read them with a web browser using a web-based Usenet
newsreader (such as Google Groups).

Here are some differences between Usenet newsgroups and Google Groups
discussion groups: 1) You can read public and private Usenet
newsgroups with a Usenet newsreader. With Google Groups you can mainly
read public Usenet newsgroups (if archiving is allowed by that
newsgroup). 2) Google Groups discussion groups are not meant to be
read with a Usenet newsreader. 3) Public Usenet newsgroup messages are
propagated to different Usenet news servers, which are owned by
different organizations, but Google Groups discussion groups are only
hosted by Google's own servers. 4) Usenet newsgroups don't have pages
and uploaded files sections as Google Groups discussion groups may
have.

  Usenet article shown using a Usenet newsreader program
Picture 15. Usenet article shown using a Usenet newsreader program.

  Same Usenet article shown with Google Groups
Picture 16. Same Usenet article shown with Google Groups.

 

 



Last modified: March 3rd, 2007

Author: Tomi Häsä (tomi.hasa@gmail.com)

URL: http://sites.google.com/site/tomihasa/google-groups-info

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