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Facebook overhauls its Groups feature

Users can now download pics from their profile

Facebook has overhauled its Groups feature in a bid to create social clusters that evolve naturally.

The new-look Group will feature a more open structure that allows anybody to add other users to a group, no approval required. So you might have one group that consists largely of hometown friends, another for nuclear family and another for your intramural soccer team.

Group members will be able to post messages, chat amongst themselves and send mass emails. Like photo tagging, you won't be able to pre-emptively block people from adding you to a group. Instead, you'll get notified, and it's your job to leave the group if you don't want to be a part of it.

This is a bold move by Facebook. Zuckerberg said he expects Groups to eclipse friends lists as the primary way to manage your social connections.

"We aren't trying to be hyperbolic when we say this is going to be a fundamental shift in the way people use Facebook," Zuckerberg said.

Groups is a smart addition to Facebook but also a privacy minefield. At its best, Groups will allow people to communicate in ways they previously weren't comfortable. If a family group grows naturally where previously it was too much effort, it may encourage more intimate conversations that would never occur over Facebook's regular news feed.

On the other hand, Groups could easily spiral out of control. One rogue member could derail a gathering by inviting a dozen unwanted guests. Zuckerberg said these kinds of situations will work themselves out through transparency - everyone will know who is the bad seed - but in practice I can think of some troubling scenarios. What if someone doesn't notice that a person's been added to the group, and then goes on to gossip about that person in a posting? What if people with a lot of friends gets added to so many groups that they can't keep up? As always, the opt-out nature of Facebook is a potential pitfall.

The new Facebook Groups starts rolling out today. In addition to this change, Facebook is adding the ability to download all of your personal information - photos, videos, posts, etc - in a zip file, and a dashboard for controlling and monitoring how third-party apps use your data.


See also: How to keep your children safe on Facebook

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