Google Groups, like many of Google's applications, is designed with ease of use in mind. For instance, to search Google Groups for topics that interest you, you simply use a search box located on the Google Groups homepage. Results will be returned to you as they would be through any basic Internet search. Google Groups also has an advanced search capability, where you can search by date range, language, group or author. Searching by date range can prove particularly interesting, since discussions stretch back 25 years and cover everything from technology to politics. Once you've found a topic that interests you, you can subscribe to the group and receive updates about new posts via e-mail.
Creating your own group isn't much harder than searching through existing groups, though you'll need to make some decisions about who can post to the group moving forward. Google Groups designates three different access levels for its groups: public, announcements-only and restricted. As you might imagine, public groups have the fewest restrictions. Anyone can view discussions in a public group, though only members of the group can post messages, create pages and upload files.
Announcements-only groups differ from public groups because only group managers can post content. A group like this might be useful for non-profit groups or parent-teacher associations, where group managers want to keep members informed about the latest news but don't necessarily want members' feedback posted for all to see.
Unlike public and announcements-only groups where anyone can view content, in restricted group, only members can read posts. In fact, restricted groups' posts don't appear in search results at all, so members are, typically, personally invited by the group's manager.
Speaking of inviting members, it's one of the first things you'll do once you've created a group. Invitations are sent via e-mail, and while you don't need a Gmail account to join a group, you won't have access to some of Google Groups' features if you use another e-mail service. For instance, if you don't have a Gmail account, you won't be able to upload files or create Web pages, though you'll still be able to view and respond to posts through your own e-mail account. If you do happen to have a Gmail account, posting files and creating pages is fairly straightforward. After logging in to Gmail, you can click "more" at the top of your e-mail account homepage and select "groups" from the drop-down menu. Or, as a Gmail user, you can go directly to www.groups.gooogle.com and access a list of the groups you belong to. From the Google Groups dashboard, you simply click on the group you are interested in and a list of the group's recent discussions will appear on the screen, along with a menu bar that lets you contribute to the group's content.
While Google Groups owes a lot to its Usenet roots, it has a number of useful new features that sets it apart from the competition. Read on to find out more about these unique features.