Google stole my idea for discussion lists! (an early review of Google Groups2 / Google e-mail lists)

communication tools, google, technology

Okay, not really :-). But maybe I should go into fortune telling, because I had written about the newly released Google Groups2 Discussion List Service two weeks ago on the “What Should Google Do” group on orkut.com:


Email Discussion Lists

The competition is simply awful. Yahoo! inserts annoying banner ads everywhere and sometimes even full-page interstitials. MSN lists are awkward to set up and use. And Topica (free version) has suffered from poor reliability and over-ad’edness.
Google could create a stellar e-mail discussion list service, especially given that:
– it already is rapidly acquiring mail-related know-how from Gmail (anti-spam issues, smart threading, etc.)
– AdSense can be even MORE targeted (and profitable!) on many if not most discussion lists, and Google has in fact already experimented with putting AdSense ads in e-mail newsletters.
Overall, I’m excited about how Google could create some fabulous synergy with Google Groups (definitely in need of a UI overhaul, IMHO), Google E-mail Lists, and Gmail… really leveraging threading, anti-spam protections, and of course, search!
What do you think?

Well, given my earlier-written note above, you can guess what *I* think about it. It’s pretty damn exciting!

However, a few things concern me:

1) Will it stay banner-ad free?
Google writes this on the Google Groups Help page: “Google Groups never displays pop-ups or banner ads.” Sounds pretty absolute. Note, though, that it doesn’t say that Google will NEVER display banner ads (or even the nasty interstitials that YahooGroups annoys the hell out of folks with). And given the fact that — to my disbelief — Google started including up to 50Kb in size banner ads on AdSense content sites, I’m not quite what to think about Google’s commitment to a streamlined user interface.

Of course, I’m minorly hypocritical. I include some banner ads on my sites, including this one. But that’s my own personal choice. I’m not sure I’d want to see a banner ad on every Google Groups page :(.

2) There still seems to be no protection against evil spam-bots harvesting Web addresses
Unlike most standalone Usenet (newsgroup) readers, Google Groups2 (like the regular Google Groups) offers no way for posters to hide their e-mail addresses. Why does this matter? Well, as soon as I post to rec.arts.whatever with my coveted Gmail account address, it’s probably just a matter of days before one of those Godawful spammers uses a tool to scrape my address (and millions of others) off of Usenet postings… using them not only to send spam, perhaps, but also to sell as part of ‘spam address’ CDs, guaranteeing me bucketloads more spam in the future. Indeed, I believe it’s largely due to my earlier unobfuscated Usenet postings in the distant past that have resulted in a couple of my e-mail addresses getting several HUNDRED spams per day.

3) Right now, the user interface doesn’t come close to matching the elegant simplicity of Gmail… or even various software Usenet readers.
While tree-view is a bit more palatable, the default Groups2 view is functional but, frankly, a bit unwieldly and not something I’d want to stare at for any length of time.

* * *

With that out of the way, let me offer my assessment of some of the GOOD stuff I’ve found in my early testing:

1) It’s fast
Going from screen to screen is quick, and time-to-receive-sent-messages is darn fast, too (Google claims messages are sent within 10 seconds! Take THAT sluggish YahooGroups! :D)

2) So far, sent messages are naked!
I can’t imagine that this’ll persist, but right now, group mail is delightfully devoid of obnoxious taglines, and even ad-free so far!

3) Rather rich functionality
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Yahoo! and Topica should be positively blushing right now. GG2 offers pretty much the core of those services’ functionality, at least in terms of e-mail options, though it lacks the extended features that YahooGroups offers, such as calendaring, file storage, and so on.

* * *

Will people make the switch? It’s hard to say. I’m guessing that many folks — understandably fed up with the flakiness and intrusiveness of the existing discussion list services — may strongly consider GG2. However, there are rather high switching costs in many cases. While Google makes it easy to import new subscribers (add OR invite… hmm… I wonder how they’re guarding against abuse with that!), many members will have to update their spam or general rules filters, and — more commonly — get used to a new interface. And those of us with e-newsletters may seriously have cold feet; I’ve already moved my subscribers from list service to list service (one folded, one became too expensive, and so on), and I am quite hesitant to once again drag everyone to a new home.

Where I think GG2 has the most potential is in the creation of *NEW* groups, since there’s no user or moderator baggage to deal with. With similar feature sets and Google’s trademark reliability (except for AdWords :cough cough:), I see few reasons for anyone to start a list on anything other than Gmail.

There are, of course, a few exceptions ;-). Here are some cases in which GG2 may not be the best choice for aspiring moderators:

1) Branding is critical
GG2 is NOT the right choice for most companies, who (IMHO) should really be sending out mail listed as from theircompany.com, or at minimum, theircompany.trusted-mailer.com. “Free” — no matter how pre-IPO fashionable — is generally less respected by customers who may expect an ad-free and custom communications channel from the companies they do business with.

2) Your group isn’t ‘critical’ or ‘required’ or ‘differentiated’
There are switching costs for members, as described above, and some may not wish to establish Google Acccounts, no matter how easy this is to do. As a result, some may bail out, preferring to stick with tried-and-true YahooGroups or Topica Groups.

3) You make use of YahooGroup’s extended features
If you maintain group files (photos, databases, FAQ’s, etc.) or use the calendar function or rely upon online-presence-detection (who’s online Yahoo), then GG2 is not (yet) the right choice for you.

* * *

With that said, I encourage everyone to give GG2 a try. You can create groups for free and with surprising ease… and so you now have new and spiffy tools to start the 387th Britney Spears fan club. On the other hand, maybe it’s best to follow the Google creed; Don’t Be Evil 😀

* * *

Want to talk about GG2? Feel free to post your comments here, or join the official (not run by me!) Google Groups2 Discussion List. Be sure to read through the GG2 info materials first 🙂

7 comments… add one
  • Jason Osgood May 13, 2004

    The branding/skinning idea is a good one.  I’d love to host discussion groups on Google.  It’d be well worth paying for.

  • OO May 16, 2004

    Sounds like it will be more mailing list crap. Just what we don’t need. After all the spam and viruses, you’d think Google would be smart enough to try something different. Oh well…

    Google Groups2 is being developed by a bunch of eGroups ex-patriots. They managed to bankrupt OneList and eGroups before conning Yahoo into a buy out. Let’s see if they learned anything.

  • Adam May 16, 2004

    Interesting, OO… both your comments, and the fact that there’s some reason you’d like not only your e-mail address, but name to be anonymous 😉

    I’m a bit befuddled by your distaste for mailing lists?  Do you not think they serve a valuable function, or do you merely think that they don’t have a place with search engine companies like Yahoo and Google?

  • OO May 17, 2004

    Of course mailing lists have a rich purpose. But as *groups* or *forums* for public discussion, they lack mass appeal. And they completely fail when it comes to stopping the abuse loop.

    Consider: People cannot remain anonymous.  People cannot adequately protect their privacy or insure their security. Any and all spammers and viruses can see and harvest the revealed email addresses. ‘You don’t like what I say, you could look at my IP address abd DoS me!’

    To prevent the easy abuse, properly run mailing lists should be closed to the public. What fun is that?  Ok, then let’s make them web-only.  If there’s no email, then we no longer have those issues.  But, if they’re web-only, they’re not really mailing lists any more, are they? 

    As Yahoo CLUBS showed, it’s not the means of delivery (Y-Clubs emailed posts), but the feedback/participation end of things that makes it a ‘mailing list’ (you could not email TO Y-Clubs). Spammers couldn’t spam a Y-Club via email and they couldn’t really harvest addresses from the club.  In Y-Clubs, harassers (or viruses) couldn’t spoof an email address and send junk to the Club at-large. 

    Note the Google Groups2 Beta reveals any and all participant email addresses in plain text! It’s a spam harvesters’ field day.  You might avoid that problem by avoiding the mailing list metaphor from the ground up. Or at least play equal time with some *new* concepts.

    So far, I’m not convinced the eGroupies learned anything.

    [Who is only kinda/sorta of anonymous if you follow the URL provided. Just to show you I have some experience with this stuff, the email address I used here is one that was abused to oblivion by spamware back in 1997.]

  • Rajkumar Dec 16, 2006

    To know more about google adsense and other ads visit this site

    http://smartchoice4you.brinkster.net/

  • Mark Mar 10, 2008

    Great post, and knowledge how to stole ideas of others.
    kidding…

  • Proteus Dec 10, 2008

What do you think?