Much of Google’s success rests on the fact that the words “Google” and “suck” rarely appear in the same sentence.
There is one notable exception: Google Groups, which lately has started to look more and more like an abandoned service. The mailing-list and discussion-board service has remained short on features since Google launched it in 2001. Meanwhile, Groups has become overwhelmed with spam, and one the most popular Google Groups — the JQuery mailing list, with more than 20,000 members — is jumping ship.
“As far as I’m concerned, Google Groups is dead,” he writes.
Resig isn’t the only one with problems. Google Groups began life as a way to rescue the Deja.com Usenet archive, but as our Epicenter blog recently reported, the Usenet portion of Google Groups is fundamentally broken. Google has since addressed some problems highlighted in that piece, but even newly created groups, like the JQuery group, feel neglected and overrun with spam.
While Resig is careful to note that Google Groups remains a workable optionfor private mailing lists, but for large public mailing lists like JQuery, Google Groups’ inability to combat spam, its poor moderator tools and general neglect have made the platform unusable.
“The problem mostly lies in the use cases that we’re trying to support,” Resig says in an e-mail to Webmonkey. “We need to support people who are actively trying to help new users, and we also need to support people who just want a simple question answered.” Spam, awkward filtering tools and a lack of support have driven JQuery to look elsewhere for a platform that connects its users, he says.
From an end-user point of view, the problem might not be immediately noticeable, especially if you’re using a good e-mail client which can filter out the spam for you. However, it can be a bit shocking to visit your favorite Groups’ homepage and discover it’s been overrun by spammers.
While Gmail is good at filtering spam, Google Groups is so bad, it’s almost as if the company isn’t even trying. There is a moderation option, which helps a bit. For example, compare the Django Users Group homepage (which uses moderation) to the EveryBlock Group (which doesn’t use moderation). As you can see, there isn’t one legitimate message on the Everyblock Group homepage, while there’s hardly any spam in the Django Group.
Sadly, as Resig points out, moderation makes joining and posting to a Google Group much more complex for the first-time users who have come seeking help, and the tools provided for moderators aren’t nearly as slick as you’d expect from a Google product.
Compounding the problem, spammers have figured out that spoofing e-mail addresses works swimmingly in Google Groups. So even with moderation turned on, spam will inevitably get through. Even worse, it’ll look like it came from legitimate list members, or even the moderators. In the end, the moderators have to moderate their own e-mail addresses to truly stop Google Groups spam.
Resig tells Webmonkey that JQuery is still looking for a suitable replacement for Google Groups. The top contenders are Vanilla Forums, which allows people to subscribe to all new posts and comments by e-mail, and Stack Exchange, which is essentially Stack Overflow customized for a specific topic.
Unfortunately, based on Resig’s account, it looks like Google’s Data Liberation Front hasn’t trained its data-export vision on Groups just yet — there is no way to export all the messages from a Group (there is, however, the ability to export a list of all members). In the JQuery Group’s case, that means some 120,000 messages in the group will have to exported by hand.
As for the future of Google Groups, well, the handwriting might well be on the wall. As blogger and former Yahoo engineer Andy Baio points out, “If you want to know which areas of big companies are being ignored, watch for spam taking over.”