In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Thefacebook.com as a dedicated social networking site for Harvard students. Gradually, Thefacebook.com expanded to include other Boston area schools, Stanford and other Ivy League institutions.
A year later, thanks to some startup cash from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Zuckerberg purchased the domain facebook.com for $200,000. By 2006, Facebook was open to anyone over the age of 13 who had an email account. Now, Facebook is offering a shoutout to its original concept by launching a service called Groups for Schools, and its reach will expand beyond Ivy League schools or the top 10 online universities.
Groups for Schools is open to any student who has a .edu email address. Groups began rolling out to universities in April and will gradually make its way to campuses nationwide. The idea is to allow students to collaborate based on shared classes without exposing their personal lives too much. In other words, your professor will never see that video of you playing Beer Pong that you posted on your personal Facebook page.
Within a group, faculty and current students can message one another, share files and create events. For professors, this means not having to use their personal accounts to assign homework or to share supplemental materials. Alumni and students who drop out of school will not be able to continue participating in Groups. The person who initially creates the group is the group’s administrator, although additional admins can be added later. Anyone within the group can share files, and if someone posts a revision of a previous file, the old file will still be available.
Brown and Vanderbilt piloted the current version of Groups for Schools, and the service has begun to spread to a variety of universities. At Michigan State, for example, students are using Groups to stay in touch with classmates without giving out their email addresses or phone numbers. When students are doing group work, according to MSU professors, a Facebook connection means that all members can co-create content at the same time. Additionally, because communication is quick, students can easily share ideas and collaborate.
Some professors worry that Facebook will only serve as a distraction for students. Others have expressed concern about intellectual property rights. According to Facebook terms and conditions, the site has the right to use any content associated to Facebook, and many students and professors wonder if that right will extend to shared student work. Additionally, some officials are concerned about the potential for abusing the file sharing feature to send inappropriate materials that would create a liability for the university.
To find out when Groups will be available at your school, you can either search for your school on the Groups homepage or wait for the Groups for Schools logo to appear on your Facebook profile, provided that you’ve listed your school as part of your profile. For college students all over America, joining Groups for Schools is like taking a quick trip back through time to the very beginnings of the Facebook concept.