- Social Network?
- User Ratings
Summary:Feature Rich but Hampered by Service and Performance Challenges
Cost:Tiered with Free Option
Cost Info:Free option is storage, bandwidth and admin limited. Several important features only available with paid plan.
Pros:Feature Rich, Layout Customization
Cons:Unreliable Performance, Inconsistent Support and Customer Service, Lack of Clear Communication
When I first perused and began testing Grou.ps, I thought I had found our solution. Based in San Franciso, on the surface Grou.ps appeared to be the platform with not only the best chance to compete with Ning, but a strong possibility to beat them. Grou.ps provides pretty much every feature you might desire in a social network and there are no glaring weak points as far as functionality goes. They have a great mission statement, a user friendly interface and customer support interactions with customers are always polite. They claim to be very passionate about their product and there are many things to indicate this is true. In the end, however, the impression I was left with was that they had bitten off more than they could chew. When Ning began to charge for their sites, Grou.ps marketed heavily to Ning users, noting that they would remain "free forever" and offering an easy transition. It seems that they weren't fully prepared for the mass influx of Ning users as the performance of their offering seems consistently taxed. I even put this assertion out a couple of times on their forums in response to repeated technical difficulties, but received no reply. To make matters worse, just a few weeks later, Grou.ps announced that they too were moving to a tiered pricing model, giving their users only seven days notice to choose one, lest their site default to the now crippled free option.
Our initial excitement in finding Grou.ps was quickly doused by the unreliable performance. Our initial clue was that notification emails would often be delayed by days or not be delivered at all. Looking through past forum posts showed this had been an intermittent issue for some time and often took over a week to be corrected. Little details were offered by the support team while the problem was occuring other than "please be patient while we work on this". Perhaps one of their few acknowledgements of an error on their end is a clue to why they kept a tight lid on things. After a few days of videos not properly in November, their leader reported, "We've noticed that our video encoding license got expired last week and that's why all video encoding attempts had been failing." These sorts of experiences might be acceptable for a startup offering free beta accounts while they work out the kinks. However, Grou.ps purports to be more than that and one could find many reports of these sorts of issues continuing for those paying for accounts. Grou.ps functionality is so strong and complete that, if it weren't for the performance issues we encountered, it would easily rate four to five stars. Unfortunately, the performance issues we experienced were so strong and persistent that I can't currently recommend this as an option for any but the most patient of groups. I strongly encourage anyone considering grou.ps as an option to spend some time reading posts in the "founders network" under the "support" tab. This may give you some indication of the current state of things. Note, however, that there is now a Premium support forum for those with paid accounts, so much of the discussion has probably moved there.
Significant Feature Notes
Resources - FAQ, Founders Forum
Pricing - Tiered with free option (ad supported, storage and bandwidth limited, no private groups, no moderation)
General Use - User friendly, well organized. Reminiscent of Facebook/MySpace with activity stream, profile placement and wall. Many options for users to customize experience including email notifications.
Admin - Can add custom questions to user profiles. Can only create member roles with Silver plan. Can only moderate content with Silver plan. Ability to email or send newsletter to all members. Import and Export Data
Layout - Several templates available. Easily add modules and drag and drop them on the layout while viewing content. Can only modify Views (how data is display/creation of new blocks) with Gold plan
Forums - Strong feature. Allows for quoting. Ability to send a copy of forum post to group via email.
Events - Strong feature. Allows for recurring events. Allows for private events. Allows for subgroup specific events. Allows for maximum # of attendees. Allows for notification via email. Shows addresses on a map. Allows for comments and full RSVP functionality. Only weak point is that there is only a list view, no calendar implementation.
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