More than 1 billion people use Facebook Groups every month. But for the world's largest social network, that just isn’t enough.
The nearly decade-old product, where people around the world share “dank memes” of Bernie Sanders or can learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis, is undergoing a redesign to make it easier for users to search for and join Groups related to their interests.
Central to that is a new feature called "Discover," found in the Facebook app under the "More" tab and then "Groups." The page, available on the iOS and Android app, displays more than 25 categories, including parenting, school and education and sports. Each category lists suggestions for Groups based on Facebook interests, activity and friends. Below that section, there is a list of Friends Groups and Local Groups.
The point is to get Facebook users joining more, relevant groups, which will in turn increase their time spent in Facebook, which already amounts to 50 minutes a day. The experience is currently available to a set of users in the United States and will be introduced more widely over the coming weeks.
Facebook’s goal is for every member of the community to use the feature in order to discover more Groups. “The best part of a Group is that it’s extremely meaningful for you,” Alex Deve, a product management director at Facebook, told International Business Times at the tech company’s headquarters in New York.
Deve is from France and is active in French groups on the network — for example, Groups about French people in San Francisco and, more specifically, French people who like French food in San Francisco. His wife is passionate about “mom groups,” he says, and also has a closed Group between friends giving fashion advice.
Facebook Groups have been through several big changes and iterations at the company. Back in the early days, there were Groups about people’s obsessions with Facebook bumper stickers and other college-centric use cases.
In 2010, Facebook made a push to add new functionalities to Groups. For example, there were now notifications and Group messaging. “Facebook has always been a great place to share information with your friends and keep up with what they're doing. What hasn't been as easy is sharing information with small groups of people,” Facebook’s Matt Hicks wrote in a blog post at the time.
Now, on Groups, people can run polls, share files and upload photo albums. The company’s latest focus, live-streaming video, is also a part of the experience. In fact, Deve said his team at Facebook uses Groups for task management and collaboration.
Out of the tens of millions of active Groups, there are two main use cases. One purpose is to organize trips, such as a wedding. The other is around hobbies or common interests. The first tends to mean having a closed Group for friends, while the latter can resonate globally.
Deve said he sees Groups as one of the most powerful products, not just on Facebook but in the world. “When I hear stories about people using Groups, sometimes I get teary, sometimes I get goosebumps, sometimes I jump up and down,” he said.
The feature is not without its issues, however. Facebook recently banned guns from being sold on the network, but there are still internal advocates of the trade, Forbes reported.
Public Groups face the potential of harassment by opponents. For example, Bernie Sanders support groups were temporarily shut down after they were spammed by users posting pornographic materials. “We rely a lot on our users. As soon as we see something, we act very quickly,” Deve said.
Outside of this update, Facebook Groups is also available as a mobile app. Facebook declined to provide a number of downloads but says it is popular among users who are extremely active with Groups. “We believe that Groups lives in both worlds,” Deve said. “We love that, and we’ll continue to improve it all the time.”
As for making revenue from Groups, users can pay to have a sponsored post to increase awareness. Facebook does not take a portion of money exchanged in For Sale Groups. But the feature as a whole increases engagement in the core Facebook experience, which in the end, brings in more ad dollars and interest data.