We use both spaces and groups in our internal community.
Our plan was to have the corporate "work" portion of our lives in spaces as they tend to provide for better management and visibility within the administrative console and we also have 100's and they're 4-8 levels deep. It's the top-down approach to provide some structure to the community. The nice thing about spaces is rule management for access within the admin console.
Groups allow for our organic growth and cultural aspects. Anyone can create open/member-only groups and our Community Managers can help setup the private/secret groups since there are always exceptions where private collaboration needs to be achieved.
By doing this it keeps our numbers of groups to a tinier number (still in the 100's) but also allows us to see what's going on in our community on a broad basis. We can identify groups that have content that really ought to be in the space area and can work with those members to migrate it. This helps with navigation and search.
Search is something that has nuance and there are ways to use it better. If you navigate to a sub-space tree area and THEN search, it will provide better search results. I heard in v5 the search has changed from lucene to solr so that might only slightly different.
Other companies have gone more with groups but then had search issues (too many groups?!). Others have also gone strictly into spaces and had issues by not being organic enough. Overall I think that a hybrid approach offers flexibility without becoming dogma. Some content suits a space architecture while other content is actually better in groups.
Another issue to consider is culture. If it's important to show who the members are of a place, then groups may be a better way to go -- for that type of interaction.
Thank you, Doug. It's always helpful to know what others are doing. I'm finding managing all of these spaces problematic, and in our company I am the person who must create spaces, subspaces and groups so it's getting to be a bit overwhelming.
I like the idea of user created groups, but we have concerns that all of them would be private or secret and hence hinder collaboration. Is that your experience?
Yes, that's why -- in the admin console -- there's a place to limit users to creating only open or member-only groups. The whole "secret" group creation can become a nightmare.
You can find that setting in Permissions / Social Group Permissions and only allow users to "Create Group (Public)" rather than (Private)
When requiring a list of users within a space, you can assign them by permission group and then expose the individuals in that permission group with a free downloadable widget by Will French https://community.jivesoftware.com/docs/DOC-5301
This worked really well for us. We modified it so you could add and delete users from the permission group right from the space (if you had admin rights to the space).