Microsoft has announced that MSN Groups will close in February 2009.
They have made a deal with Multiply so that MSN Group Managers can create a group on Multiply, migrate their content and invite their group members from MSN Groups. The migration process worked pretty well on the small MSN group I created today, but managers of large MSN groups report long migration times, incomplete migration and other problems. Still, I think getting most of the content over is doing pretty well, given the challenges of integrating disparate systems.
Multiply groups are great for posting photos, videos and music, and their site customization is pretty flexible. What I haven’t found at Multiply is good old email discussion group functioning. You can get email delivery with a Multiply group, and you can post via email using a “Secret Pin”. There is a scary form in the HTML email that flips you to the site to make a comment. This is a web forum with an email interface, and a long way from the equivalent participation using web and email provided by Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups and OnlineGroups.Net. My MSN Group works pretty well that way, too, although the forum interface feels pretty old school and the text at the top of the email body is slightly disconcerting. I can, however, post and read posts using email or the web. I am sure that MSN Group users would find that OnlineGroups.Net groups compare pretty favourably with the MSN Groups messages feature, after the small time that it takes to get used to anything new.
You can’t delete posts with OnlineGroups.Net groups, but we think that’s a feature not a bug, as most posts are emailed out to most people. If spam is a problem, it’s easy to put new members on moderation.
The messages system at OnlineGroups.Net is not totally vanilla, though. Online groups topics are great for document-sharing, and make a passable photo album, and you can post YouTube movies quite easily. OnlineGroups.Net groups also have live chat.
A Multiply group gets its own subdomain (like my group at http://test20081027.multiply.com/), as do people (like me at http://danrandow.multiply.com/). If you have multiple related groups, I guess you just have to link between them, like you do at MSN. A big difference with OnlineGroups.Net is that you can locate multiple related groups on a single site with its own domain such as http://demosite.onlinegroups.net/. This is perhaps of more appeal to organisations than it is to MSN Group Managers who, I am guessing, tend to be individuals. If there are clusters of MSN Groups looking for a single location, however, then starting an OnlineGroups.Net site would be a good option. [Update: clearly many MSN Groups have multiple message boards. Groups like these, whether convened by organisations or inviduals, could benefit from starting multiple groups on an OnlineGroups.Net site.]
Another difference from both MSN Groups and Multiply is that OnlineGroups.Net sites have no ads. We charge for private group members (although they’re still free just now), so the business model is clear. Use a free public site and bring us customers who might buy the premium service. We want OnlineGroups.Net sites to reflect our customers’ identity as much as possible, rather than ours or some arbitrary third party’s. We even invite site adminstrators to put their own domain on an online groups site for free.
So, MSN Group Managers, if it’s good old email and web discussion that you want, with some file, photo and video-sharing and a bit of live chat, an OnlineGroups.Net site could be well worth considering. If you also want to have multiple related groups located on a single site, and you’d rather have no ads, I’d like to know what other option beats ours.
Unfortunately, we can’t offer the same migration process that Multiply can. I can’t find an API at MSN Groups or any way to export messages or user profiles. If you can get a list of group members’ email addresses, it’s pretty easy to invite users to join an OnlineGroups.Net group, in batches of up to 100.
What we can do is to reply to email. If you have any questions about migrating from MSN Groups to OnlineGroups.Net, we’d love to hear from you in the OnlineGroups.Net Admins group. [Update: Here are some details about the benefits of OnlineGroups.Net for MSN Group Managers and a demo group that you can join to try out OnlineGroups.Net.]