Google Groups: More than Your Average Mailgroups

Getting to know Groups

  • Google Groups come with many handy features:
    • The most common use is as an Email list.
    • Groups can also act like web forums, where members can communicate with one another by posting to specific topic threads.
    • They can also act like Q&A sessions where questions are asked of the group, and members can respond.
  • A few important things to note about Google Groups:
    • For now, Google Groups are available for Faculty and Staff only.  They'll be available system-wide in the near future.
    • Also for now, the "New Group" link will not be present for Willamette University managed Google user accounts.  To request the creation of a group, please use the E-Mail Group Application Form.
    • To access your Google Groups, head over to https://groups.google.com
  • There are several different kinds of groups:
    • Ad-Hoc groups are ones you create and they always end in -group
    • Data-Driven groups are managed by WITS and membership is updated nightly.
    • Course Groups are special Data-Driven groups tied to their specific official Willamette courses.
    • Group members can remove themselves from Ad-Hoc Groups.  They can 'technically' remove themselves from any group, but Data-Driven and Course-Groups will update each night and restore membership.
NOTE: WITS is still in the process of rolling out Google Groups functionality; not all of the below information may relate to currently available functionality at this time.

Google Groups at Willamette

Google Groups is replacing our legacy mailgroup system.  Google Groups provides a range of modern features not available in our previous system and tightly integrates with all Google Suite apps.

Unlike conventional listservs or Willamette's legacy mailgroup system, Google Groups is not purely an email-based solution.  In parallel to traditional group email, which Groups handles in a manner virtually identical to our legacy mailgroups, Groups also offers a web view that retains the history of all messages and conversations. 

Message handling

Messages sent to a group's email address are evaluated for acceptance and moderation.  Likely spam is always sent to a moderation queue for group owners to review, and messages from disallowed senders or banned users are blocked.  Messages that qualify for moderation are then held, awaiting the approval of an authorized group moderator.  Finally, messages that pass or bypass moderation are delivered to the group.

Groups can implement email delivery, web delivery, or both. 

  • Email delivery sends a copy of incoming messages to each member of the group, just like our traditional mailgroups.
  • Web delivery results in the message being visible from the group's web interface.  If the message is a reply, it will collected with the original message, and all other previous messages, like Gmail's conversation view.
  • If both options are selected, then both behaviors will occur in parallel.  Users can then choose their preferred method of interacting with the group's messages..

Group Categories

With the move to Google Groups, groups will divided into three primary types: ad-hoc groups, data-driven groups, and course groups.  While these categories essentially existed by default in the past, they are becoming more formal definitions with the move to Google Groups.

Ad-Hoc Groups

Any member of the Willamette Community can create an ad-hoc Google Group.  Groups created in this way will always have a '-group' suffix to their email address' local-part.  A student could create <midnight-pingpong-team-group@willamette.edu>, but not <midnight-pingpong-team@willamette.edu>.  Conversely, no 'official' university groups will end in -group.

Most groups originally created in the legacy mailgroup server are of this type, but do not have the "-group" suffix.  That disparity may be addressed in a later initiative.

Data-Driven Groups

A selection of university-official groups are created by WITS, with membership and management determined by data (from Colleague or other data sources).  Examples include the large-audience distribution lists like wu-community and wu-staff, building-resident lists like <smullin-bldg@willamette.edu>, and some unit-wide lists such as <university-services-staff@willamette.edu>.

Where possible, theses lists occupy their own namespace, denoted by the final section of the email address' local-part.  All building-resident groups will end in "-bldg", all department or unit staff group addresses will end in "-staff", and so forth.  This follows the example set by the '-info' groups.

Group managers will be able to add additional members, as Google provide no means to prevent them from doing so, but the scheduled sync process will overwrite all changes when it executes.  It is therefore not recommended that data-driven group owners and managers make manual changes.

Course Groups

A Google Group is created for each semester/instance of a course and section.  This allows groups for different semesters' offerings of "Philosophy 101, Section 01" (for example) to coexist.  The instructor and enrolled students for each course are updated automatically over the course of the semester.  That means these groups are also technically data-driven, but the processes behind their management and creation are sufficiently different to warrant their own category.

As with the data-driven groups, manual changes will be overwritten by the regularly-scheduled sync process.  However, automated management of the membership of these groups will cease once their relevant semester has concluded.  Any manual changes made after this time will not be overwritten.

After a given semester is over, professors can feel free to retain or delete their course groups.  They are retained by default.

Accessing Google Groups

Users can access their groups by clicking on the nine-square grid icon to the left of their profile photo at the top-right of any of the standard Google web interfaces (Gmail, Drive, etc.).  Google groups can be directly accessed by navigating to https://groups.google.com

Users experiencing issues access their groups in this way should log out of all Google accounts, sign back in with their Willamette account, and reattempt access.

Finding Groups

There are a number of ways to identify and keep track of university Google Groups:

Google Groups Directory

Google provides a built-in Groups directory.  Users can search for groups via the search box at the top of the Google Groups web interface.  Alternately, users can select the "Browse all" link form the main Groups landing page, which will provide a list of all extant groups that have not specifically been hidden from the directory by their owners.  Group owners are encouraged to make their groups visible in the directory

Portal Groups Directory

A group directory is available in the WU Portal, as well, allowing users to identify the groups with which they wish  to communicate without requiring a log-in to Google.

Favorite Groups

Users can mark Groups as a "Favorite" in the Google Groups web interface.  Favorited groups will appear in the left nav.  To favorite a group,click the star icon under the header in the group's main topic view.

Recent Views and Searches

Groups a user has recently viewed will appear in the left nav, below favorite groups, along with recently-used search terms.

Membership Management

The membership of a Google Group is managed from the web interface.  Users with the authority to manage membership can access the controls by clicking "Members", followed by "Manage". at the top-right of the Google Groups interface.  This interface replaces the legacy "View/Edit Your Mailgroups" webpage.

Roles

Permissions in Google Groups are role-based.  Users are assigned to roles, and then permissions are granted to roles.  Google has three built-in roles: "Member", "Manager", and "Owner".  It's recommended that only the "Owner" and "Member" roles are used in most cases.  This approach maintains congruency with our legacy mailgroups and is better supported by our back-end management tools.  The "Manager" role should only be used if a middle-level of permissions is required, perhaps a role that can manage membership but not other group settings.

Additional ad-hoc roles can be created on a per-group basis.  It is strongly recommended that this functionality not be used, as custom roles are poorly supported by the Google Groups interface and management tools.

Group Moderation Settings

Moderation is not active by default but is an important feature that helps group owners and Managers protect their members from junk mail.

Moderation allows sufficiently-privileged group members, generally Owners and Managers, to determine which messages should be allowed through to the members of the group.  Messages selected for moderation are held in a 'Pending Messages' queue until their disposition is decided upon.  Groups have several default moderation options:

  • Moderate no messages
  • Moderate all messages
  • Moderate messages from non-members

In addition to the default options, moderation can be adjusted for individual members.   Moderation is subject to posting permission.

Moderation and Spam

Suspected spam message of which Google is not 100% sure will end up in the 'Pending Messages' queue as well, even in the case of groups configured with no other moderation.

Handling rejected messages

The Rejected author notification setting allows group owners to select whether rejecting a message triggers a notification back to the sender.  Options are:

  • Do not notify
  • Default rejection message
  • Custom rejection message

By default, owners and managers can moderate messages.

Moderating Members

Owners and managers have control over individual member settings.  Members can have their posting permission set to any of the following:

  • Default
  • Override - Allow Posting
  • Override - Disallow Posting
  • Override - Moderated Posting

Posting Permission

Moderation is subject to posting permission, so if you cannot post to the list, you cannot be moderated.  The following posting options are available:

  • Owners may post
  • Managers may post
  • All group members may post
  • A organization members may post (anyone with a willamette.edu email account)
  • Public (anyone in the world may post).

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