Facebook launches university-exclusive Groups

Facebook is testing a new Groups for Schools feature that brings the service back to its roots. It allows students to create Groups limited to only their peers from their university or college.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Facebook first started out as an exclusive service for Harvard students, then expanded to more universities and colleges, and only after opened up to the whole world. Since signing up for Facebook once required a university or college e-mail address, users felt safer sharing openly with everyone in their school's network. Facebook is going back to its roots by launching a new "Groups for Schools" feature – to join, you must have an official e-mail account with your school.

As you can see in the screenshot above, I've been invited to "Groups at University of Toronto." Anyone part of the Facebook Group can create subgroups (for classes, clubs, dorms, sport teams, student organizations, parties, and so on) that are only visible to those with an authenticated UofT e-mail address. For most schools in the U.S., that means an e-mail address ending with edu.com, but Facebook acknowledges that many universities and colleges don't follow this rule and so it simply requires that members have whatever e-mail address type the school requires (in my case it's @utoronto.ca).

Here's how Facebook describes the new feature:

Your Student Life, All in One Place

  • Join groups, see photos and plan events around campus
  • Add classmates to groups without having to be friends first
  • Exclusive to members of the University of Toronto community

Facebook first started testing the new Groups in December 2011 (with Groups at Brown and Groups at Vanderbilt). This past weekend, however, I and many of my classmates were invited to Groups at University of Toronto. Annoyingly, just being part of UofT means I get a "Groups at University of Toronto" section in the Groups menu on the left-hand side of my Facebook account. I haven't joined the Group yet, and I still have the new section. Unlike other groups, there's no way to remove it.

This shows just how aggressively Facebook is pushing this new feature: it looks like it's going to be in my Groups section whether I join or not. Facebook is likely hoping this won't be a problem because it clearly wants all students to join the group for their corresponding school. Don't get me wrong: I think the new feature is a brilliant idea, but I like having complete control over my Facebook account, and not being able to remove the "Groups at University of Toronto" option bothers me.

Here's what the Facebook Help Center says about the new feature:

Is it possible to create a Facebook group for my school? We're testing a new groups format with a handful of universities in the US. The new format lets a school create a community that's limited to just people with an active email address for that school.

Once students and faculty become members, they can create or join groups within the community for their dorms, classes or other campus activities. If your school isn't participating in this trial period, stay tuned. We'll launch this feature to more schools soon.

I'm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and so is my university. I have contacted Facebook to inquire whether this feature is now available to all universities and colleges worldwide, or if the company is still testing it. In the meantime, if you're seeing this feature, you can give your feedback (suggestions and bug reports) via the following two forms: Your School Groups Suggestion and Something's Not Working: School Groups.

The new Groups for Schools feature is Facebook's way of catering to its original audience. Given that the service has grown to over 845 million monthly active users, Menlo Park realizes that students are no longer just friends with other students on the social network. Their families, colleagues, and other friends may not necessarily want to hear about their academic lives.

For sharing content, students can just use Friend Lists to organize their different types of friends, but for everything else school-related they may want to do on Facebook, there hasn't been a clear separator, until now. Facebook wants people using the service for every type of communication, and Groups for Schools is an attempt to get students back to doing just that.

Update at 1:00 PM PST: Facebook tells me the feature is still not final and will be updating the Facebook Help Center entry to reflect the expanded test.

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