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Groups and how to find them

December 2006

As I keep saying, the internet has changed no basic rule, but it has opened a few doors a bit wider. For example, it allows people with similar interests to find each other with an ease that would have been pretty well impossible in the olden days.

By way of example, let us consider Yahoo! Groups (do you think that they will ever have the courage to drop the exclamation mark?). Go to and put in your favourite hobby or activity. Say you are learning Italian at evening classes; put “learning Italian” into the slot and press Search.

Up should pop a list of groups of people who share that interest and have already found each other. When I looked, there were 68 groups that relate to learning Italian; you will need to browse through them to find one to your taste. For example, the third one on the Italian list describes itself as “a group of adults at different stages of learning the Italian language. We also discuss Italian music, culture, art, food, travel and almost anything else Italian, hopefully using more and more of the language to discuss these topics as we learn.”

Passing over the irritating use of “hopefully” in this context, this group looks like just the job. So I click on the Join This Group button. I am then asked to enter my Yahoo! ID (if you do not have one, you can register by clicking on the Sign Up link. It doesn't cost anything, and your details will stay secret.)

You then have to make a few choices as to how you want the thing to work for you, like selecting the email address at which you'd like to receive group messages and so forth. You’ll then have to copy some letters that look as if they have been drawn by a clumsy child holding the pen in his wrong hand – this exercise proves you are a human, and thus avoids spam generating machines breaching the defences. Now press “Proceed” and you are there.

You need to have a look around and get to know how it works. You’ll see that all the posts (as messages are called) are grouped in topics (you can start one if you want). You’ll find that the participants tend to be courteous and stick to the topic – or if they don’t, they are quickly removed by the moderator.

This moderator, or the group of them (up to 15), are members of the group just like you (rather than Yahoo! employees) and can work at various levels. Some groups insist that your posts are approved before publication; others just keep an eye on things, removing unsuitable posts, or sticking in a calming note if it seems helpful.

It is a haven of self-help; if the members don’t co-operate with each other there is no point to it all, so the groups are apt to be rather polite, even formal places. And none the worse for that.

I used to think that these sorts of groups were the home of bores and windbags, and some no doubt are. But as a means of finding a like minded person to exchange views with, or seek advice from, they seem to be growing up and becoming rather worthwhile, especially as more and more interesting people discover them,

I think that the more focussed the group is, the more likely it is to be of value. One chap I know joined a group of people who were all due to run in the London Marathon, and he found it very supportive when the training became almost too much to suffer. They got him through it.

As I said, this is not new – specialist clubs have always existed – but they have never been so easy to find, or join, before. And if you get the hang of it you can even start one yourself; it’s not too difficult. I would love to hear from any Oldie reader who does.