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Google Groups Joins Apps Suite

Users gain more flexible communication and collaboration options, while IT administrators gain more control over information management.

Google Apps has a new app, Google Groups, the company's online message board and mailing list service.

Groups evolved out of Google's 2001 acquisition of Deja News, a search and aggregation service built around Usenet newsgroups.

Groups has languished in recent years, at least compared to some of Google's other acquired services, like Writely and JotSpot, which have been renovated for business users and become important enterprise services for the company.

But now Groups is getting its own makeover to enhance its attractiveness to businesses. Google is offering Premiere and Education Edition users of its Apps suite a way to create groups and share information under IT administrative supervision but without forcing users to rely on administrators for group set-up and provisioning.

"Google Groups is one of our most widely used applications, enabling everyone from the local hiking club to the family next door to create mailing lists and discussion forums," explained Google Apps senior product manager Rajen Sheth in a blog post. "Now employees within a company can create groups for their departments, their teams or their projects. Employees can use these groups as mailing lists, but they can also share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, calendars, videos and sites with groups, instead of many individual recipients."

Users can configure how they are notified about Groups messages and can access those message without IT assistance.

IT departments aren't left out of the loop however: They still decide whether users can create groups, whether external access is allowed, and what group options are allowed. But they can delegate Group creation and membership management to users.

Document and collaboration permissions are tied to the Group, so that users who leave lose their access rights. As an example, a Groups user could share a Docs file and enable collaboration by issuing an invitation to the Groups e-mail address and selecting the edit option. Thereafter, all Group members will be able to access and edit the shared document.

In a statement, Michael Rodger, director of digital innovation at Delta Hotels and Resorts, characterized Groups as a valuable way to coordinate company-wide communication. "In hotel locations from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Google Groups enables our employee community to pose questions, share information and distribute best practices across the company," he said. "Colleagues can post to a single email address knowing that their message will be delivered to mailboxes across the whole organization. Furthermore, Google Groups ensures that all historical conversations are searchable, enabling Delta Hotels and Resorts to capture valuable insight for future reference."

While other Google services, like Sites and the forthcoming Wave, offer similar information sharing capabilities, Google sees its tools enhancing one another rather than competing.

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