Thinking About Groups

An entrepreneur pinged me the other day with an idea that was in the groups sector of the web market (yahoo groups, google groups, meetup, facebook groups, etc, etc). I asked him why the web needed another groups service. And at the same time, I asked my friend Charlie O’Donnell who is a member of more groups than anyone I know for his opinion of the web groups market.

Instead of emailing me back, Charlie posted his response on his blog. His assessment is that most of the web groups tools lack the complete feature set that one would want, with the possible exception of Meetup which is the premium (ie paid) service in the market. Charlie also feels that the big social nets (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace) are missing a big opportunity in the groups space because their offerings are so limited.

But the big point he makes, and one that I think is really worth focusing on for a minute, is that every group, no matter who they are, wants something that’s a little different.

The point is, every group is different, so the idea of one particular
group software solving everyone’s problem is never going to work.

Which takes me back to my favorite blog post of the past month, by Stan Schroeder at Mashable called "Why Less Is More And How To Unlock The Web". In that post, Stan argues that the more complicated you make your service, the smaller the user base that will find it useful. He says the magic formula is:

Determine a basic need -> Create a service that satisfies it in the simplest way possible -> Open it up

And that sounds right to me in the groups market. Charlie says the least common denominator in the groups market are these three functions:

  1. A customizable site to call their own, even if it just has information as to what the group does and how to sign up.
  2. A way to communicate internally, via a one-way or two-way listserv, depending on the group.
  3. A way to do RSVPs for events.

So using the less is more mantra, someone should build just that, make it drop dead simple, and then build the killer API that lets everyone build on top of that. It may be that the big social nets are in the best spot to do that. Or maybe not.

But I am sure that building yet another groups service is not the answer.