Best practices for layout and design of Groups
The more important for public groups to have a good explanation as to what the group is about. People can stumble onto open groups, but they have to go looking for private and secret ones so they probably already know what those are about before they join them.
The most important factor is what the purpose of the group is. We tend to think of our groups in terms of three different focus areas:
- Information sharing (similar to a web site)
- Q&A (often support groups for some business process or application)
If the goal is information sharing, the focus should be on helping visitors get to the information they are looking for. This means using widgets for subspace listing, tag widgets, featured content, search widget, etc. The more dynamic widgets like Recent Activity and the people widgets aren't as important here. Also good to have categories if possible. The overview page is probably going to look pretty static but that's OK and might even be an advantage in terms of maintaining familiarity during repeat visits.
For Q&A, the focus is on making it quick and easy for visitors to ask and get answers to questions, and for those who own the group to answer them. So widgets like Ask Question and Unanswered Questions are good ones to use, along with designing the overview page so that it's easy for visitors to find questions that have already been answered, maybe via categories or tags or an FAQ document shown with a Doc Viewer widget -- whatever make sense. You might also make liberal use of Announcements to help head off questions when something about the process or application changes.
For collaboration, it helps to have several "Recent ... " widgets on the overview page, especially when starting out. A collaboration group is going to need a critical mass of participants to be successful, so the perception of activity is important. Anything that indicates something has changed since the last visit is a good thing to have.
- If a group is geared towards discussion/collaboration, the Featured Content (the items the owners WANT discussed) and Recent Activity (rather than Recent Content) are the two key widgets recommended.
- If a group is more a document library, then Recent Content and Categories are most important. Popular Documents, Tags, and Featured Content are most useful.
- In related groups and spaces, keep the layout and widgets as similar as possible so that users don't need to re-orient themselves each time they move to a new group or space.