April 12, 2012 at 1:01 PM ET
Way back before it had 845 million monthly active users, Facebook was a viral addiction for college and university students and now, with Groups for Schools, the massive social network goes back to its roots to allow students and faculty to interact within the site to discuss classes, make plans and share photos.
Sure, you can do all that now, but Groups for Schools drops a cone of some privacy around those activities, so that only confirmed members of a school can participate in these newly created communities.
Within a college or university, students and faculty can create sub-groups, such as those focused on certain sports, clubs, classes or other organizations, so long as it falls under the umbrella of the school.
An added bonus is being able to share files -- up to 25 MB each -- so users can share lecture notes, assignments, schedules, etc. And thanks to the Help Center for this tidbit: "If you upload a revised version of a file, the previous version of the file will still be available." But students who think this will be the new hotspot for movies and music had best think again.
As TechCrunch, which broke the story of the Groups for Schools testing at Brown and Vanderbilt in December, pointed out: "To avoid legal issues, Facebook monitors for and disallows copyrighted files, so this won’t become your new source for MP3s and pirated movies, and leaves a somewhat sketchy gap for Dropbox to fill."
You have to have an active email account at the school to join in the fun -- including creating events and adding other members. (If you go to more than one school -- which is quite a feat in multi-tasking, to say the least -- then you can join more than one Group, but you have to verify active email addresses for those additional schools. As the Help Center clarifies: "Leaving your school community will remove you from all of the groups within your school. If you rejoin your school community, you'll need to rejoin each of your old groups individually.")
If your school has created a Group, a message will appear on the left side of your home page. Or, go to the main Groups for School page and search for your school.
I found both my alma maters, Oberlin College and Stanford University, using Groups for Schools.
As with any Facebook addition, privacy is going to be a concern. On the one hand, Groups for Schools users can message any confirmed member of their school community without being friends first -- and add each other to groups even if they aren't friends. "Anyone can see the school community, its open and closed groups, as well as who's in them," the Help Center notes.
But, Facebook does allow Groups to choose between three privacy options:
Open: Anyone can see an open group, and who's in it. Members of the school community can also see or post updates, photos, files and events shared within the group.
Closed: Anyone can see a closed group, and who's in it. Only members of a closed group can see or post updates, photos, events and files.
Secret: Only members of a secret group can see the group, who’s in it and what members post and share.
And for now, if you've already created a group for your school, you'll have to start from scratch, as Facebook cannot convert those existing groups into Groups for Schools.