Directly Adding Group Members — Does It Actually Help?

Recently Google removed the feature that enabled a group administrator add members directly to a GoogleGroup, without the need for the new member to take any action. Instead, the group administrator must invite new members, who must accept the invitation before joining the group. At OnlineGroups.Net, we made a similar decision a couple of years ago. In both cases, the decision has been controversial.

The decision is so controversial, that for specific circumstances, we are working on implementing a system to just-add group members, while getting around some of its problems.

In the meantime, OnlineGroups.Net can offer a couple of options to group administrators who require just-add straight away:

  • Talk to us. We answer email and respond to posts in the OnlineGroups.Net Administrators group. We also offer a variety of custom services, so we may be able to help.
  • Set up your own GroupServer instance and add members via the back-end interface.

Before running ahead with this, however, it is worth taking a closer look at the arguments for an against “just-add”.

In Favour of Just Adding Group Members

The Response Rate to Invitations is too Low

When I just add people I get a lot more new group members than I do when I invite people. Just add allows me to build the membership of my group as quickly as I would like to.

People Do Not Get the Invitation Emails

Invitation emails sent to new group members are often caught by spam filters, so there is no way for the invitee to respond.

Group Members have Already Consented to Joining the Group

The invitee agreed to join the group when I collected their email address. There is no need to get their consent again.

Responding to an Invitation is Too Difficult for Some People

Some of my group members are technically naïve. They find it too difficult or tiresome to go through the process of accepting an invitation.

Group Members will Miss Out if they Do Not Start Getting Email Straight Away

There is a really interesting discussion going on in the group right now. I want the new members to receive these posts so that they get engaged in the group straight away.

I Want to Help One Group Member in Particular

An important person has agreed to join the group. I want to make the process as smooth as possible for them.

I am Not a Spammer

I understand that others may abuse the facility to just add group members. I will not abuse it! Why should I — and my group members — be penalised?

Our Staff are Employees — they Have to Participate

Inside an organisation, the rules are different. We can require that people join email groups as part of their jobs.

In Favour of Invitations

How Much Consent is Too Much?

In some cases, invitations may repeat the process of obtaining consent. The consent they obtain, however, is well-informed. Email is intrusive. The invitation contains links to the actual system that the user is signing up to. It shows the description and other information about the group, the terms of use of the site, and information about how the system functions.

It is true that the system does not (currently it can not) distinguish between legitimate administrators and spammers. This does however protect the administrators and their group members from being just-added to other groups for non-legitimate purposes.

People Participate when they Want to Participate

Most group administrators want to build healthy participation in their groups. The number of members and the names on a membership list are important, but they do not guarantee healthy participation. Healthy participation occurs when people want to participate.

If new group members are already well-motivated to participate, they will push through the barrier of a click or two on a website. If they are not, then they will need hands-on encouragement. A personalised invitation message is likely to help with this. A new stream of email from an unfamiliar source is likely to have the opposite effect.

A moment spent browsing the archives, on the other hand, will quickly inform a new participant of the current conversations and of the kind of people and conversations that characterise the group. We suggest creating a welcoming Introductions topic, and pointing new members to it.

Cross the Technical Barriers Early

Like any technology, email groups require users to adopt a new interface. They have to set up a connection with the system, and to learn how the system works. Active participation in the process of joining a group presents these barriers early in the process, at a time when the participant is most likely to be motivated to overcome them.

Firstly, an invitation system picks up the 15% or so of email addresses that contain errors. Secondly, it establishes that the participant can actually find and respond to emails from the system: a task that will be required for ordinary participation. Thirdly, it establishes that the participant can log in to the website, set a password and possibly even configure some settings and create a profile. All these things will help the participant to participate, and help others to engage with them.

If the invitation remains unaccepted, the administrator is in a good position to offer hands-on help to the invitee. With just-add, any of the above steps can fail silently.

We know that the invitations system has usability challenges. One of the biggest is that it is very hard to determine what is going wrong when an invitee does not respond. We would welcome any insights into this and suggestions about how the problems could be overcome.

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