I’m quite active in a number of popular communities in Windows Live Groups. The service is definitely still in its infancy, and even some of the more technical and experienced Windows Live users have had a difficult time wrapping their heads around the current feature set.
I won’t attempt to provide a full review of Windows Live Groups in this post, but suffice it to say that on the surface, Windows Live Groups is pretty Spartan, indeed, lacking some of the most basic features found on big forum sites.
However, I think that’s actually a shrewd design decision. You see, this service is not supposed to be a replacement for the soon-to-be-retired MSN Groups, nor is it expected to compete with the other big forum players out there, such as Multiply or Ning. Instead, Windows Live Groups is centered around small, personal social circles, such as families, neighbors, and special-interest clubs. Instead of hosting a worldwide chat room, it’s designed to be communication tool for real-world friends to share a common interest. In that context, you don’t really need the ability to advertise your group, and other than allowing new members into the fold while keeping out the riff-raff, group moderation is just a formality.
That’s not to say that Windows Live Groups can’t be used to host larger groups. I belong to a group for Windows Home Server enthusiasts that has almost 1,000 members. Another Windows Live-centric group that I co-own currently has over 100 members, and it’s intensely active with discussions (no shameless plugs here).
A common problem we’ve lamented in our groups is the inability to “sticky” important discussions. Currently, group discussions are ranked by latest reply, so unless a discussion remains very active, chances are that it’s doomed to sink to the bottom of the list and drop off the radar in a hot second. Being a roll-your-own kind of guy, I decided that a work-around was in order.
One feature that I’m just starting to fully explore is Shared Favorites, which allows you to manually place URLs in a special SkyDrive folder for easy access. I’ve been using the feature a lot lately to share websites of interest with my network, but it turns out that each group also gets a little slice of the SkyDrive pie, with its own dedicated Favorites folder. Any group member can place URLs inside the folder for (relatively) quick reference among the group. The group’s (and the member’s) What’s New feed also broadcasts the new favorite.
How does all this relate to the concept of creating “sticky” group discussions? Simple. You can use the group’s favorites to create links to your favorite group discussions:
First navigate to the group’s SkyDrive > Favorites folder, and click Create Folder.
Return to the Favorite Discussions folder, and click Create Favorite.
Finally, paste the URL into the Web Address field, add a friendly name (the name of the original discussion) and a description, and click Create. SHAZAM! (sorry, Ian). The new favorite will be added for easy access, and it will be displayed on the group’s What’s New feed (which can be easily removed, in case you’re worried about appearing redundant). It won’t affect the sort order of the discussion threads, but members can easily pop over to the folder and find important discussions together in one place.
While this work-around may be a little too intensive and manual to be classified as “easy,” in lieu of a better option, I think it’ll do nicely for the time being. Give it a whirl and let me know how it works for your groups.