Google Groups Adds Mailing Lists & Other Features, Competes With Yahoo Groups

Google has added new mailing list creation functionality to its Google Groups service, giving it a capability that competes directly with the Yahoo Groups service.

Google Groups, launched in March 2001 after the acquisition of Deja, had been a service allowing people to search and post to Usenet discussion areas. The Google Groups 2 beta site expands this to allow people to create their own mailing list-based “groups” for free.

The beta site also enhances the ability to interact with Usenet groups. Among the new features are:

  • Ability to “star” a particular discussion, so it’s easy to return and monitor changes via the new My Groups feature.
  • Ability to receive Usenet discussion posts via email.
  • Faster posting ability — posts will appear within minutes, rather than the hours it could sometimes take, Google says.

Google Groups has always been a favorite search feature of mine to use especially when I’m seeking advice and opinions. It seems successful for this because it captures conversations and only conversations. I can always dump a cryptic Windows error code into it and find a post where someone has already asked about the problem and often gotten a solution to solve it.

Indeed, Windows guru Brian Livingston recently found the same thing — that Google Groups outperformed general Google for computer solutions. So the Google Group enhancements serve as a good reminder to consider trying the service, if you haven’t before.

It’s also a good reminder to check out Yahoo Groups, at least if you are trying to find email-based interest groups. The service has run for several years and offers thousands of lists on various topics.

You can easily search to find lists that match your interests, though you can’t search across posts themselves. In contrast, Google Groups will do this for the new mailing list groups it provides, assuming the list owners want posts to become searchable by the public.

Of course, Yahoo Groups is also a great place to set up a mailing list of your own. I’ve long used it as a means to quickly create a list to network friends or colleagues around particular topics. There’s no doubt many Google users will appreciate similar functionality being offered by Google.

Yet Another Portal Feature?

The addition of mailing lists sees Google adding yet another feature that seemingly has little to do with search and more to do with tying users to its service and increasing its ad distribution.

Last year, Google purchased the Blogger service, recently relaunched this week. That service added nothing to Google’s search capabilities, as I’ve explained before. However, it did allow Google to easily expand its contextual ad network.

Blogger also gave Google a more hip version of personal home pages that portals have long offered — and as I’ve written before, for nowhere near the price those portals paid. Yahoo’s GeoCities purchase was valued at nearly $4 billion. Google’s Blogger purchase had a value of $15 million or less — likely very much less, according to Google’s IPO filing.

This year, Google rolled out its free email service, Gmail. That arguably is search related, given that many people indeed have problems locating important information within their email. It fits within Google’s goal of organizing the world’s information, yet it also gives Google another important sticky portal feature.

Now the new free mailing list feature, while useful and welcomed, seems like another move to add another sticky portal feature.

Indeed, Yahoo Groups exists because way back in 1998, they were created (and then called Yahoo Clubs) as part of the race to add portal features and capture users. Mailing list capabilities came as part of Yahoo’s later acquisition in 2000 of eGroups for $428 million in stock.

Now as Google’s competitors are fighting to win users in the current search wars, Google Groups 2, like Gmail and Blogger before it, seems a way for Google to strike back at the portal features that some (see Forrester and Moreover) mistakenly assumed it would be weak on or missed buying.

What’s next? I’m betting some type of financial type of service similar to Yahoo Finance. Letting people set up stock portfolios and linking these to information was one of the earliest sticky portal features around. It’s a big gap at Google, in the way that the service once had a big gap in term news search.

Google has since filled that news gap, with its 2002 enhancements making it a more compelling place for newshounds to start their day — and perhaps pulling some of those people away from Yahoo News.

Similarly, a financial service makes competitive sense. It also fits in with Google’s mission. In addition, once the company goes public, it might want to offer this if only to avoid the embarrassment of employees seeking financial updates elsewhere such as at Yahoo or MSN. Currently, both are key providers of data that Google’s largely unknown stock quote service uses.

It Is Organizing Information, Says Google

For its part, Google defends the addition of mailing lists as definitely fitting into its mission.

“It has a lot to do with organizing the world’s information. One reason we acquired Deja three years ago was that we saw valuable information in the archive and in the conversations people have across forums,” said Marissa Mayer, director of consumer web products at Google. “We wanted to provide new content to cover the things that groups are good at….we’re allowing people to have a new avenue where they can create forums.”

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that forums such as mailing lists, Usenet groups or traditional web-based discussion areas all provide valuable content that can be mined. But wouldn’t Google’s mission to organize work better if it was aimed at making it easier to search through just this type of existing material, rather than creating more?

For example, why not concentrate on offering a feature like BoardReader, which lets you search web forums and just web forums? (And for marketers, be sure to try Marketing Forum Watch, which lets you search just against marketing forums).

That’s something that might come in the future, Google said.

“It’s obvious we are interested in having search across all types of mediums like this,” Mayer said. “It’s by no means the last turn in the evolution of the product.”

Ads & Filtering Search

In case you were wondering — yes, Google’s ubiquitous ads will be present. Do a keyword search on Google Groups 2, and keyword-linked ads will be shown just as they are with the current Google Groups.

Contextual-based ads are planned to run alongside group posts in the future, though they aren’t live yet. This will only happen on web pages, however. Mayer said there are no plans to insert ads into the emails sent out to members of a particular group.

Mayer also said that eventually, there will be a way to do an advanced search if you just want to locate the groups Google allows you to create, as opposed to groups that are part of Usenet. It’s not something currently offered with the beta.

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