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A face-lift for Facebook's Groups

The social network is rolling out a redesign of user-created "groups," which appeared to have taken a backseat to its focus on brands' "fan pages."

Facebook's Groups feature seemed to have long since taken a backseat to the "fan pages" that the social network has encouraged companies and brands to create. But they're far from obsolete.

In a Monday blog post called "Giving Groups a Stronger Voice," Facebook has announced a number of ways it has improved Groups, to better match the rest of the site and more closely tie to members' activity feeds.

"Group activities, which previously only appeared in the group, will now be delivered to your news feed," the post by Facebook engineer Knot Pipatsrisawat read. These updates will be restricted to those that come from people already on your friends list, which is key, since many groups have thousands--or even millions--of members.

"For example, you now will see a story when your friend uploads photos from a recent party at your high school alumni group, or when one of your friends posts a message on the wall of your pick-up soccer group, saying that there is a special game this week," according to Pipatsrisawat's post.

A look at the new 'Groups' design on Facebook. Facebook

Additionally, the home page of a group has been modified to look more like a regular member profile or fan page, complete with a news feed and "publisher" field. Basically, this gives yet another Facebook feature a dose of the "real-time stream." The blog post adds that this is currently available to a small number of users and will be available more widely "in the coming days."

The updates come as Facebook previews some home page improvements to advertisers. But the Groups redesign is geared toward ordinary users, not brands, Facebook says.

"Groups are for fostering member-to-member collaboration, while Pages remain the best way to broadcast messages to your fans, if you are a business, organization, public figure, or other entity," Pipatsrisawat's post explained.

Meanwhile, the other big player in real-time content, Twitter, started the beta test rollout of its own grouping, or "lists," feature last week. Those are fairly different, though, as Twitter users are encouraged to create their own lists of recommended members that other users can follow with one click.