Minigroup: Your Private Social Bubble

Social networking. It’s human nature to fear the unknown, and in the realm of current technology, the unknown is now social networking. And granted, there’s plenty to fear. Like every innovation before it, horror stories have been told about the dangerous effects of these new social networks. There’s obvious issues when you’re sharing personal information with people who’s identities can’t be confirmed. But then there are the brighter sides to these digital networks with social connections. We get to add a social layer to our digital lives, sharing those artifacts of pixels and code that are important to us now.

So what if you could have the best of both worlds? What if you could get all the benefits a social network provides, but wrapped in a protective bubble of encryption, something where you choose who’s allowed in. That’s what Minigroup aims to provide. Let’s take a look at what they have to offer, and just how painless and feature-rich this private social network is.

Getting Started

An important consideration for any web app is how frictionless the sign-up process is. The more hoops a prospective user has to jump through, the smaller the chance of them even bothering. One of the best examples I’ve seen is Tumblr’s sign-up page. It’s incredibly simple. There are three fields: your email address, your prospective password, and your URL of choice. That’s it. You really can’t get more foolproof.

Let’s see how Minigroup handles the sign-up process.

Minigroup's Sign Up Process

Minigroup's Sign Up Process

Alright, it’s not too bad. Minigroup presents you with two fields for your name, one for your first, one for your last. My guess is that makes something in the backend of Minigroup a little easier. Then you’ve got your email address, your time zone. I’m not entirely sure why the time zone’s necessary. Perhaps it has something to do with Minigroup’s event features (which we’ll get to in a sec). Finally you get the usual password/confirm password fields, and an option to subscribe to the Minigroup newsletter. Thankfully, that’s not checked by default. At the bottom of all this you probably noticed the privacy statement. Minigroup’s pitch revolves around privacy, and I think it’s a great idea for them to continue to show a prospective user that it’s a priority.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m spending so much time breaking down Minigroup’s sign-up page. The bottom line is: on the web, first impressions mean everything. And the sign-up page gives the prospective user a real glimpse of what using the service might be like. I think Minigroup’s sign-up process is just average. A prospective user might feel the same.

Networking Features

Ok, so let’s move past the signing up phase, and onto what matters to most people: the features. Just what kind of things can you put into your new private social bubble?

Groups

Probably the most abstract that Minigroup gets would be the Group level. That’s the interesting thing about how Minigroup works. You can have one account, but multiple groups with different users of Minigroup. So your work group doesn’t see anything from your friends group who can’t see anything from your family group. Those private bubbles are looking better and better. You can create them, and travel between them.

The Groups Menu

The Groups Menu

Posts

These are really the heart of Minigroup. A post is how you share things with members of your network. You’re not limited to 140 characters, so Minigroup isn’t trying to be a Twitter clone. In a lot of ways, Minigroup seems more akin to Facebook, with Posts being similar to threaded Facebook Wall posts. Each post supports an unlimited number of replies, as well as allowing for nearly any type of file attachment. It’s a pretty full-featured offering.

A Post on Minigroup

A Post on Minigroup

Profiles

Another intriguing aspect to Minigroup is how it handles your profile. I mentioned earlier that creating Groups was like creating separate bubbles, but that you have one account that travels between them. Well, Minigroup offers one nice feature to handle that traveling gracefully. You can create multiple profiles, corresponding to the different groups you’re a part of. That’ll come in pretty handy, letting you present a casual face with your friends, and a more professional one to your colleagues.

Events

Beyond just posts and attachments, Minigroup also supports the creation of events, with support for users to accept or decline the invitation. Certainly something with useful applications in both personal and professional contexts.

An Event on Minigroup

An Event on Minigroup

Potential Snags

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the potential issues I’ve noticed in my use of Minigroup. For one thing, it’s a social network, and so by its very nature susceptible to the negative connotations of the network effect. Social networks become more useful to you, the more people that use them. Now, because of the inherently private nature of Minigroup, that may not be as big an issue as it normally would be. You can invite the people you want to use the service, to use it, and achieve a personal “critical mass” of users.

The only other real issue I’ve seen is a lack of support for mobile devices. People are on the move, plain and simple. And more and more, we’re computing on the go, connecting with people on the go. So a lack of a mobile app on any of the major platforms is a bit of an imposition. They have a nicely executed mobile-optimized site, which is far better than nothing, but also isn’t the ideal user experience. Mobile apps are expensive to develop, and without the capital to do it, simply aren’t feasible. I’m afraid that’s Minigroup’s case.

In Conclusion

Well, Minigroup delivers on what it promises: a personal, private social network. As any good social network though, it relies on more than just yourself using it to be useful, though its private nature makes it a little easier to overcome the issue of critical mass. In a lot of ways Minigroup impressed me, and I can understand it appealing to a certain audience. I just hope that audience finds Minigroup, and it stays around.


Summary

Minigroup is your own personal, private social network.

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