One of the best ways to keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and like-minded people is to use Google groups. Google groups provide a simple email or Web-based interface to discussion, whether it’s the occasional posting or hundreds of messages a day. In this article, we’ll show you how to use Google groups from start to finish.
Use Google Groups To Create Your Own Mailing List Or Forum
Creating a Google group is easy. First you need a Google account. If you’re one of the few people who has managed to avoid creating a Google account already, then fear not—it’s free and easy. Go to Google.com, click the Sign In link on the top-right corner of the screen, and choose the Create An Account Now link. You will need to give Google your email address, but no other personal information will be required.
Creating a Google group couldn’t be easier: go to groups.google.com and click the Create button. You need to enter a few pieces of information and configure a few quick settings in order to use Google groups:
- Name Your Group is plain enough—but choose wisely: you won’t be able to change your group name after you create it.
- Create Email Address configures one way people can use Google groups. Each group gets its own email address @googlegroups.com and members can post to the group just by sending email to that address. You also can’t change this setting later, so choose wisely.
The email address influences the group’s URL. For example, a group with the email address email@example.com has the URL http://groups.google.com/group/example
- Write Group Description lets you write a short, 300-character description of your group. You can change this later, so don’t worry too much about what you write now.
- Will This Group Discuss Adult Material? This checkbox lets you restrict membership in the group to people who have verified they’re 18 years old or older. If you don’t check this box and Google detects group members linking to sexually explicit material, they might send you warnings and eventually close your group—that’s because Google is legally liable for minors who view objectionable content on Google’s servers.
- Choose An Access Level lets you determine who gets to read and post to your group. This is a very important decision, so we’ll discuss it in a separate section.
Choose An Access Level Before You Use Google Groups
The most important decision you can make about your Google group is whether or not it’s public and who gets to make posts—a decision Google calls choosing an access level. There are three access levels:
- Public Access lets anyone read your group’s old posts. Anyone can join the group too, but only people who have joined can post new messages. Also, anyone who joins can read the members list. Public access is a great way to use Google groups for creating an association of like-minded people. For example, my local Linux Users Group uses Google groups between meetings so we can keep in touch, ask each other questions about Linux, and schedule future meetings.
- Announcement-Only is a lot like the public access level, but only you (and your delegates) can post messages or read the members list. A lot of open source software projects use an announcements group to announce new releases of their software. Because posts are infrequent and important, sometimes these groups have tens or hundreds of thousands of readers.
- Restricted is also like the public access level with one big difference: only people you invite to the group can use it. Nobody else can read the archives, post messages, or read the members list. This is great for families, businesses, local gaming clubs, or any other small association which just wants to have a private mailing list or discussion forum.
How To Use Google Groups Regularly
After you choose your group’s access level, click the Create My Group button and (optionally) invite the initial members. If you created a public or announcement group, your group will be listed in the Google directory within minutes and people will be able to search through your group’s archives as soon as you start posting.
How do you start posting? It’s simple: you can either email the email address you created when you started your group or you can go to the group’s URL. Don’t worry if you forgot this information—it’s always available from your Google groups homepage. Just login to Google and go to groups.google.com: on the right-side of the page is a section labeled My Groups. Click on the group you want to post to and then click the Add Post button near the top-right corner of the screen. There are also Reply links below each post.
How To Use Google Groups When Things Go Wrong
Unfortunately, almost all useful Internet resources are under constant attack by spammers. Google groups is no exception—Google does a good job of warding off most spammers, but a few get through anyway. There are several things you can do to prevent spam and to fix it if it gets through any way.
Any group member will see a Report Discussion as Spam link above every discussion thread. Clicking this link won’t delete the thread, but it will report it to Google and the group owner as possible spam. As a group owner, you can then remove the thread or just individual posts. Fighting spam this way isn’t very effective: using automated tools, spammers can send dozens or hundreds of posts a second, while it takes you precious time to remove each post that gets through. A better solution is proactive: stop spam before it gets posted.
An option available in your group control panel offers this proactive protection against spam. It’s called Moderate Messages From New Members. By enabling this option, the first post by a new member is emailed to the group owner. If you think the post is legitimate, you click a link to post it. If it’s spam, then you click a different link and Google never posts the message and uses it to improve their spam detection.
After you approve a post, all other posts by that author are automatically let through unimpeded. The assumption is that anyone who takes the time to write a good first post probably isn’t a spammer.