Some of the ideas I've had for groups: specific programming languages (consider the Perl Mongers model), specific human languages (¿Wanna learn Spanish?), people taking/teaching similar courses at different colleges, those of us who use that non-free (gratis) web browser, hobbies/arts/crafts, non-"traditional" sexuality or gender, maybe even something like support groups for medical conditions (how many pregnant K5ers are there?) and diseases. Maybe some of those aren't appropriate. Maybe you can think of better ideas. I think the groups are most meaningful if we don't base them on geography—we don't need a web site to talk to folks a few kilometers away.
We're not Usenet and we don't want to be. Nor are we Yahoo! Groups, nor do we want to be that, either. I think we've got a better discussion engine than ezboard and Ultimate Bulletin Board (and their many competitors), even though there are already sites about all of the things I listed above which use that kind of technology.
And I know we're not afraid of a little MLP around here, so applying K5-style cross-links and discussions to those other resources would probably do everyone some good.
What would this look like here? This is the hard part. This is what we need to think about before we start mucking with scoop. So, discuss...
My first thought was something akin to the sections we have, but I realized that probably came from that other site's sections, and that the user-driven nature of things around here would cause stuff to overpropagate and bloat far too quickly.
So instead, I think it'd be something like hotlists of users. These lists can be individually managed, like the current hotlist but with the option of creating multiple groups of people regardless of overlap between groups), or there can be some that are independently managed by interested authority—individual sponsor or group consensus, more like a mailing list or bulletin board service.
The tough issue unique to the "private" first kind is management: how do I add/remove/shuffle people from my various groups? If my list of private groups isn't inordinately long, I can imagine a group management page with options to create/delete/edit them. The private group edit page lists the current members (buttons/links to drop them) and has some mechanism for searching for users to add (name or uin), but I'm more likely add people when I see a comment or diary of theirs. Why not have a new link on their user info page something like "Add to my groups", which takes me to an intermediate page on which I can select which of my private group(s) to add them to? Do we do anything about informing the person that they've been added, or even asking permission? Is there a way to see who's watching me? I don't think so. It's already possible to see what anyone is writing (me, for instance) without them knowing.
Details on that "public" second kind are fuzzier. How are groups created? I can imagine a Usenet-like process of RFC and community vote, but that's obviously not the only way. How do I become a member of one? How do I find one in a list of hundreds or thousands? How do I know if there's already a group for that? What if I don't like those people? Should I have the same lurking ability that I do on (some) mailing lists and bulletin boards? Is that even a meaningful question? Is it reasonable for some groups to be managed by a single individual (the "sponsor")? Should there be some mechanism for governance by group consensus? Is there a possibility for invitation-only groups? Is expulsion possible or meaningful? Moderation (as in newsgroups and mailing lists)?
And the big question, that applies to both private and public groups: What does it really mean to have a list of people in a group? I see a few options here. Most likely, they are orthogonal instead of mutually exclusive, and everything can be cleaned up by the ubiquitous "Preferences" form. For ease of discussion here, I'll say options can only be set as fine-grained as each private group, or for each person's display prefs within a public group. It may be possible to tweak things further using the group edit page described above, but that's a detail to work out later.
In some groups, I want to watch everything the user does. Scary-sounding, but easily possible already. I get the information collected for me about comments/diaries/stories they've submitted, like an overview of their collective user info pages. I can sort by time posted or type of post or number of comments or comment activity or some other variable(s) I haven't thought of yet. I can show only the titles, ratings, and replies, or I can show intro copy for diaries and stories, or even all content of everything.
Naturally, I can also say things like "only diaries". In other groups, maybe I want to narrow what I watch to stories submitted by my group's members, or those stories plus these others that I'm hotlisting for purpose of this group, minus these irrelevant stories that got included from one of my watchee's other interests. This sounds like multiple hotlist management, and may be implementable completely independently of the rest of this mess.
Here's the fun one, and it's really relevant only to public groups: a separate kind of submission. I can't decide whether it should work like a diary entry (i.e. posted without vote) and be attached to the public group, or work like a moderated story submission and potentially have the opportunity to spill out of the group into general section or even front page discussion. My best guess is that we should allow both, possibly constrained by any particular public group's sponsor/consensus mechanism.
And with something like that in place, how do we keep general discussion going? Wouldn't everything fragment into groups, and we'd see site-wide articles less often? Is that a bad thing? Yeah, probably. Here's a thought to prevent that: public group diary-style submissions are attached to the diaries section as well. Anyone can read and comment. Groups are a convenience for the people who know they have something in common to share. If User X posts a group diary entry (hmm...need some better terms), it shows up on my group page, but if he/she/it posts a "regular" diary entry, it doesn't unless I've asked to see group members' regular diary entries also. It's a way of topicalizing diary entries, in case we're part of a collection of people that's using topics. Public group moderatable story submissions could be treated a couple different ways. Maybe they all go up as regular submissions, and group members get an orthogonal vote for whether it makes it to the group page or is "only" part of general discussion. Or maybe it goes through the group queue first, and anything that makes it through is automatically carried to the general submission queue (with some restriction on group members being able to cabalistically vote it up). Or maybe clicking "submit" simply links it from both queues, which each maintain their own vote count.
Okay, I think I've communicated the core of the idea, and certainly left more questions than answers. What do you think? If it looks like there's some general agreement that this could work here, and how, I'll take it to the scoop site.