Zaeske explained that Google uses Groups as a great vehicle not only for discussion but also for collaboration and content generation.
IDGNS: Google launched Groups about six years ago, after buying the Discussion Service Usenet Deja.com, whose archive of forums and messages dates back to 1995. Today’s users have other more modern services to interact online, such as social networks, blog, wikis and virtual worlds. Aren’t the discussion forums a bit outdated?
Zaeske: With Groups we go beyond the usual discussion forums, as we add the ability to do things like create web pages and edit the look of your group. We are trying to supplement the forums with a good number of other features currently available on the web that will allow people to collaborate. Blogs are primarily vehicles for personal expression and social media is primarily fun-oriented. Wikis are related to gathering knowledge. Our vision about the new version of the Groups is as wikis available to everyone, in which we have embedded the forums.
IDGNS: Still, as Web 2.0 services continue to expand and improve, won’t forums become obsolete in the near future?
Zaeske: In general, forums are a useful feature for a myriad of reasons, and they will never be out of date and will always be part of all of these services (such as wikis, social media, and blogs). Forums are a source of public information that can be consulted, especially for experts in certain areas, and it is always convenient to follow.
We think that the ability to create pages and the ability to change the appearance of the forum will make Groups be perceived as more than just a forum product. Our goal is to allow people to do all kinds of creative things and talk about it in Groups. That is to say, Groups have more than one evolution towards groupware, and not as specific in capabilities as forums. It offers a great forum service, but with the new features it has more of collaboration, expression and content creation.
IDGNS: Do you plan to integrate other functionality in Groups, such as blogs?
Zaeske: There are all kinds of things we want to do in Groups. The blogging capability would be a great feature. I can’t confirm if we will, but it would be very helpful if Groups had a blog feature. It would be a natural feature for a group.
IDGNS: And a wiki feature?
Zaeske: What we have released is essentially a wiki for people who don’t know what the term means. You can create web pages, edit them collaboratively, have discussions on them, define privileges for the group. It is essentially a wiki.
IDGNS: What is the use and popularity of Groups?
Zaeske: I can’t comment on specific figures, but obviously we are very interested in relaunching the whole product and that is due to the popularity that we have seen in Groups. We want to take it to the next level. People search for it heavily due to the vast amount of public information and forums available. Quite often, when you can’t find an answer on the web, you can find it in Groups because someone has already talked about it there.
IDGNS: Is there any kind of synergy between Groups and the wiki service JotSpot recently acquired by Google?
Zaeske: We are following the opportunities very closely. We are very excited about that. JotSpot offers some amazing things that seem very similar to what Groups offers, so we are closely following the possibility of working together.
IDGNS: What about being able to integrate word processing and spreadsheet functionality directly into Groups from Google Docs & Spreadsheets?
Zaeske: I think that would be a great feature for the product. I can’t comment on whether we’re on it. Groups offers a lot of collaboration features, but if you look at Docs & Spreadsheets, then it means a different kind of collaboration, and we are always looking to take advantage of all these features.
IDGNS: Google is mandated by co-founder Sergey Brin to simplify and consolidate its menu of products and services. Could Groups be considered as a type of umbrella service under whose interface other services can be grouped?
Zaeske: That would be a great question for our VP of Products. I think collaboration is, in general, a very important category for Google and also for content creation. The way in which we will do it is a secret for the moment.