Facebook held an invite-only event at their Californian headquarters yesterday, building the anticipation that the company was set to make a significant announcement. Unlike previous announcements by Facebook no clues were given as to what the announcement was going to be about, which led to many people trying to guess what was about to happen from recent Facebook activity. Some suggested that the announcement might be related to Facebook's recent partnership with Skype, and maybe we were going to see video chat on Facebook, or perhaps the downtime experienced by Foursquare was related to further integration with Facebook Places. Others suggested that Facebook may be about to release an official iPad application, or maybe they were going to confirm the rumours that they are developing a phone. All of these guesses, although logical, were someway off what Facebook had actually been planning - a redesign of the "Groups" feature.
The new Groups feature relates to the old in name only. The new feature allows Facebook users to create a group, which they can invite their friends to join. Members of these groups can share wall posts, links, photos, videos events and use two new features document sharing and group chat. The groups are closed by default, so the members are made public but the content is private, but this can be changed secret or open by the group admins. Mashable have claimed that this new feature is like launching a series of mini Facebooks within Facebook, which is a valid point when you consider what you can do within these new groups compared to what you can do within Facebook. Facebook have said that the idea behind this new feature is to allow real-world groups to be mapped onto Facebook, for example there may be certain things that you wish to share with your drinking buddies, but not your work colleagues, Groups now allows you to do this.
Facebook also announced two other features at the event yesterday. The first "Download Your Information" is pretty self explanatory. From this afternoon Facebook users will be able to download every piece of information that they have ever put into Facebook, that includes photos, videos, wall posts, conversation threads and status updates. The information will be arranged into an easy-to-navigate zip file that can be viewed in your web browser. This is seen as a significant step forward for Facebook which has previously been criticised for acting as a walled garden. The second is a dashboard for connected apps. This feature allows members to see how many sites and applications they've allowed access to their personal information through the network and Facebook connect. From the dashboard members can restrict the access that individual applications have to their information, and limit what action they can take, such as post on their walls. This gives members more control over their personal information, and should help to ease some of the privacy concerns that people have about Facebook.
The announcements made yesterday by Facebook, although significant, didn't quite live up to the excitement that had built among the people trying to guess what was about to come. However, TechCrunch reported that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg indicated that yesterday's announcement was only the first of many to come over the next few weeks and months, and so until then we can only continue to guess as to what they might be.