posted by Steven

Hi everyone, last week was a bit quiet on the blog as the team has been working hard on the feedback we’ve been receiving.  Thanks for taking the time to post your comments, it’s appreciated.

I’ve received a number of requests to write a post explaining what Groups are and how best to use them. I thought I’d just respond to some of the questions we’ve received.

What are groups and what can I do with them?

Windows Live Groups are persistent groups that are membership-based. Someone creates a group and invites people they know to it. When you get invited to a group you receive a pop-up in Messenger, similar to when someone adds you as a contact.

You can choose to join the group or decline if you don’t want to receive IMs from the group. When you join a group it appears in your main window inside of a category called “Groups”.  To see the members of the group you can expand the group, look at the roster and see the status of everyone who is available, busy or offline.

To IM the group simply double click on the group name. This opens a conversation window with the people who are online from that group. Just like in a regular IM, if you start typing and send IMs other people in the group will receive a toast or at least a flashing notification in their task bar. When they open the conversation window they can see who is participating in the conversation.

How big can a group get?

Groups in Messenger are limited to 20 or fewer people. When more than 2 people are online the group lights up green in your main window. You can then click on it to start a group conversation.

What is the difference between a group and a category?

For quite a while Messenger has allowed you to categorize your contacts into lists called “Groups”. This made it easy to find someone quickly when you have a huge contact list. These “Groups” were personal to you alone, a kind of “tag” if you will (Family, Friends, Co-Workers). Interestingly we found that most users either don’t like the old “groups” view and rather use the View by Status option, or never bother to create custom lists to tag their contacts. Now don’t worry we didn’t remove “groups” but we did rename them to “Categories”.  We needed to do this to make room for the new Groups which are permanent and shared collections of people that can chat with each other. You can create group from an existing category. Just right-click on the category and select “Convert to group”. This will create a new group with that list of people pre-populated into the group invite wizard. The category remains as well in your contact list.

What are examples of groups I might create?

Groups are best for people that know each other in real life, online or offline. I’ve seen groups created for a variety of purposes like working groups, family members, social cliques, book clubs, soccer teams… Where I work, I’ve created a group for my team of program managers, for people working on the beta program and one for the lead developer and tester I work closely with. I’ve also created groups for my family and when Messenger gets out there a bit more I plan on creating one for the parents of my daughter’s classmates, a book club I belong to and some friends of mine that go biking on the weekends.

You see Groups are also a great way to segment your contact list by how you partition what you share online. For instance, my wife wants one place where anyone who is “family” can come and view our photos. I want one way to quickly talk to the people on my team – its great for quick IMs like:  “who is ready to go to lunch” or "can someone send out notes from that meeting…”.

What do I need to participate in a group?

All you need is the latest version of Messenger and a Windows Live ID. When you get invited to a group it will appear in your main window… click on it to open a conversation window and start IM’ing. Or expand the group and click on a member and you’ll start a conversation with just them.

What if I am too busy to participate in a group conversation?

If you don’t want to participate in IM right then but don’t want to miss anything just close the window and you’ll continue to receive the messages as long as you are signed on. When you are ready to participate open the window with the group by clicking on it from the main window and you’ll see the conversation that went on in your absence. Remember this only works if you are online to receive the messages in the background.

A quick simple video on how to create a group.  Thanks to Brian for whipping this up.

And now a question for you

This is our V1 of groups and I am really excited about what groups could be down the road. We have a lot of ideas but I’d love to hear what you are creating groups for and what types of activities you think Messenger should do for groups in the future. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy groups!

-Steven and Brian

p.s. We have noticed a few questions about Sharing Folders and will be posting more on this topic next week.