Design of Online Groups

When a site administrator starts an online group, there are some decisions to be made. Those decisions affect the way that group members will perceive and participate in the online group. It is worth taking care over those decisions. This guide will help you to think about how to set up your online group so that it is likely to be successful.

When starting a group, the site administrator will have to make decisions on the following features of the online group.


The name is the most important design element of an Online Group. It embodies the essence of the group and, if it works, will become a shared shorthand for everything that the participants know and value about the group.

The name of an online groups should meet the following criteria.

The name should be interesting and engaging so that people like it. It should be easy to say aloud. Double meanings and humour can be useful for generating catchy names.
The name should encapsulate the people, the purpose, the participation and the passion that are planned for the group.
The should make sense in relation to its context: the site on which it resides, and the other groups that reside on that site. The name should lend itself to a suitable identifier.


The group identifier (or "ID") is used in the email address and web address (or url) of the group. The ID should closely match the name of the group but should be all lower case, with no spaces or other characters that are not allowed in an email address or url.

Privacy Setting

The privacy setting determines who can view posts, join the group and even see the existence of the group. A more restrictive privacy setting creates greater possibility for trust in the group but makes it harder to participate. A more permissive privacy setting makes it easier for people to participate in the group but harder to develop trust.

A private or secret group should have a clear membership criterion.

Short Description

The short description is shown to group members and people who may join or request to join the group. It should summarise the purpose of the group and who the group is for.

Subject Line Prefix

The subject line prefix appears in square brackets at the start of the subject line of all posts made via the group. It allows group members to easily spot posts from the group. The subject line prefix should be short but easily recognised. Often the subject line tag is the same as the identifier.

Membership Criterion

The membership criterion tells group members who may be invited or allowed to join a private or secret group in future. Any post that is made to the group could in future be read by someone who meets the membership criterion.

It is also important that participants know that they may no longer meet the membership criterion in future, for example if the membership is restricted to current office-holders in a committee.

The membership criterion should be worded in such a way that it can be enforced in an even-handed way in the future.

About the Group

The About the Group section can contain any information that is relevant to the group. It may contain a logo or image, a link to sites relevant to the group. It may contain rules that apply to the group.