Why Google Groups are now an Admins Nightmare

Anyone who manages a Google Group may have noticed recent changes to how they administer their users. While the Google Groups team calls this a spam improvement, I call it a huge oversight, a lack of innovation, and a step backwards. Especially for admins who have to deal with adding users not familiar with mailing list or groups.

On the Google Groups announcement page, they detail this change on July 19th as follows:

Spam improvements: Starting next week, we will remove the option to “Add members directly” to googlegroups.com groups since spammers have unfortunately abused this feature. Group owners will still be able to invite you to join their groups and you will have to accept their invitation before you start participating in and receiving messages from the group. Learn more here: http://groups.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=46373

My gut reaction: Google, you’re pretty smart and supposed to be innovative. You mean to tell me that because of spam abuse, you are removing a function that so many of us need in order to successfully manage a mailing list, or in my case, a communication vehicle for my community?

Over the past few months, I’ve been migrating mailing list for the different communities I manage or help manage from mailman to Google Groups. The first step was to make a decision between Yahoo! Groups and Google Groups. I’m beginning to wonder if I made the wrong choice because of this recent change.

Typically, I would export my user list from mailman and add people directly using the “Add members directly” feature that has now been removed. I’ve migrating at least three communities of over 100 members, 98% of the users came over with each migration. Some changed their email, lots of folks updated their delivery options, and a few decided they didn’t want to come over, for whatever reason. My point: I bet there are more people out there like me than there are spam abusers.

I’m currently stuck in the middle of a migration where I’m not getting folks to successfully join the new group. Because I was forced to “invite” people instead of manage the migration myself, I’m caught sending weekly reminder emails to people, explaining to them what steps they need to take. I only have 38 people successfully subscribed out of 130 users. I still have almost 100 invitations waiting to be responded to.

Possible solutions

This isn’t just a rant. I’ve been thinking of potential solutions for this. First, a few questions I think the Google Groups team should be asking, if they haven’t been already:

  • How are spammers abusing Google Groups?
  • What are the differences between established Google Groups and spam email lists?
  • Is there a way to have certified Group adminstrators that could earn permissions like this?
  • How do you nuetralize spam abusers?

I have a feeling there are more legitimate Google Groups than Spam ones. I’m only speculating though. I think potential solutions are:

  • Allow admins to migrate email list if they can prove they already have an established list somewhere with activity that shows non-spam interaction between members
    • Or just give us a migration feature
  • Allow an admin to be “certified” by meeting certain criteria such as, managing multiple groups, longevity of gmail account, or trustworthiness of Google account usage
  • Limit the number of groups a person can create over a certain period of time, i.e., you can’t create 10 groups per day
  • Limit the ability of the group until there is community acceptance, i.e. multiple members can vouch for the group or non-spam interaction between members

There are probably many other ways that this functionality could be restored and limit spammers. I fight spam on a daily basis–and I know it’s a cat and mouse game. And I think there is a solution here, I can’t imagine the Google Groups team would just turn this off without thinking it through. I hope.

Final plea

Dear Google Groups team,

Please turn the “Add members directly” feature back on. I , and other admins, need this in order to successful manage members who aren’t familiar with email or groups. When someone emails me to say, please update my email, I now have to send them a confusing invite. I totally throw you under the bus when they ask about it.

We also need it to migrate lists from other places like mailman or Yahoo! There has got to be a way to provide this to admins and make it painful for spammers. I’d like to help if I can. It’s the open source way.


Jason, manager of 6 Google Groups


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About Shibby

Jason Hibbets is a senior community architect at Red Hat which means he is a mash-up of a community manager and project manager. At night, he wears his cape and is a captain for the Open Raleigh brigade, as well as a co-chair for NC Open Pass. Jason is the author of a book titled The foundation for an open source city--a resource for cities and citizens interested in improving their government through civic hacking. While writing the book, he discovered his unknown superpower of building communities of passionate people. Jason graduated from North Carolina State University and resides in Raleigh, NC with his wife, two kids, two border collies, chickens, lots of tomato plants, and a lazy raccoon somewhere in an oak tree. In his copious spare time, he enjoys surfing, running, gardening, traveling, watching football, sampling craft beer, and participating in local government--not necessarily in that order, but close to it. You can follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets

2 thoughts on “Why Google Groups are now an Admins Nightmare

  1. Dan


    I’ve just created a group for the first time for a network of facilitators that have just started a new program. I’ve invited 47 people and so far only 1 can get onto the group. Same problem.

    Has anybody got a solution, does Google have a position on this? I’ve tried calling their number however don’t offer any technical support.

    Some help please!


  2. Shibby Post author

    Dan, I don’t have any great advice for you, but you may want to send an individual email to each person with a personal message, a link to the group, and why they should join.



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