Google Groups offers an online clubhouse

Google Groups offers an online clubhouse

You can locate like-minded people and intriguing events within Google Groups, but until now its interface has been pretty ho-hum. For instance, I tend to rely on Google Groups' messages within my Gmail account and never visit the online arm of the service. But Google is aiming to offer members of Groups an attractive, shared destination on the Web. The new features, which remain in beta testing, let you make a quick multipage Web site in a few steps with the WSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface of Google Page Creator. You're no longer stuck with a few predesigned templates. Plus, you can upload your own logo and add a welcome message. You can check out the Google Groups 3 beta at groups-beta.google.com.

Whether you're looking for fellow Liberace fans, planning a fondue party, or setting up a business meeting, those blanket e-mail messages your group shares can now point to common pages and personal profiles. The uncluttered interface of the Google Groups 3 beta lets you manage discussions, files, and members with a minimal number of mouse clicks. This service has some of the features of a wiki, à la JotSpot, but without the wiki label that may stump newbies.

You can chat from the group page or within Gmail and upload files to the group site. To show your face, just upload a picture and bio to your own profile. And of course, Google's search engine can dig up stuff within your group or any other public groups. There are some low-key text ads within the interface, no big deal. While Google Groups isn't yet a finished product, we'd like to be able to tag our files and discussions the way Gmail allows. And so far, we don't see a way to incorporate databases or events the way Yahoo Groups allows.

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