Microsoft is launching a new Communities feature for Microsoft Teams today, designed for consumers to use the best parts of Teams for free to create and organize groups. The new community feature will allow groups to use Teams’ calendar, meeting, and chat features.
Features like group chat, calls, and file/photo sharing are all supported, and groups will also be able to use a shared calendar (which includes Google Calendar integration) to organize community events.
This new community integration is really aimed at groups like sports clubs or even virtual community groups for small businesses and simple groups like carpooling for co-workers to arrange transportation. Facebook, Reddit, Discord, WhatsApp, Twitter and many other services already offer a variety of ways to organize online groups, so Microsoft is entering a crowded market, but it thinks Teams has something different to offer.
“What we’ve learned so far is that there’s a set of communities that are looking to get things done,” says Amit Fulay, vice president of product at Microsoft, in an interview with The edge. “These are very distinct from pure fan communities or chat communities, and where I think our strengths are as a business…is our ability to provide these productivity tools.”
Microsoft has created a set of templates for Teams users to quickly create communities, and these groups will be limited to the free consumer version of Teams when it launches today. Microsoft Teams apps on iOS and Android will support Communities starting today, with desktop versions expected to follow in the coming weeks. You will also be able to easily find images and files shared within groups without having to pin them.
Communities in Teams also presents Microsoft with new moderation challenges. While the company has experience managing the Xbox network, Skype, and other mainstream services that require moderation, it plans to largely follow the Discord model of expecting communities to implement their own rules and that administrators moderate their private groups.
“We actually have a centralized digital security team,” says Fulay. “We have a lot of experience on Xbox and services like Flipgrid working on the moderation stuff. The way things are reported and moderated, we have central teams for that.
Microsoft Teams communities will require a Microsoft account, and groups can easily invite others to join with a link. If this link is accidentally shared or abused, admins can quickly edit the invite link to manage who joins their community. As the Communities feature is built on top of Teams, all Virtual Meetings have features like Lobby to ensure that only community members join calls.
The launch of Communities in Microsoft Teams comes nearly two years after Microsoft was in talks to acquire Discord. Microsoft also failed to acquire TikTok and Pinterest and showed great interest in online communities and creators. Microsoft has been willing to spend a lot on these services because, outside of Xbox, it doesn’t have a huge consumer community like rivals Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.
Communities in Teams could help solve a big gap for Microsoft, but it’s very early days and the feature set seems pretty basic right now. Unlike Discord, you can’t just jump into a persistent call with your online group, and the Communities feature in Teams seems to be more structured around a rigid form of organization.
“We’re just getting started,” says Manik Gupta, CVP for Teams Consumers at Microsoft, in an interview with The edge. “We’ll see where our users come in and how to drive our roadmap. We’ll look at how people are using the product and iterate on that.”
Microsoft hired Gupta more than a year ago to lead a new consumer apps effort within the company, and he’s now responsible for the Teams client. This should mean that we see some improvements in the user experience of Microsoft’s communication tool. Microsoft Teams users often complain about performance issues or confusing aspects of the Teams consumer version built into Windows 11 and then having to launch a separate app to access the work/school version.
“One of the things I hope I can bring [to Teams] is the same level of simplicity and end-user-focused approach to creating the entire product,” says Gupta. Microsoft has gradually improved the performance of Teams over the past year, including some recent latency and framework improvements, but the promised “Microsoft Teams 2.0” application has still not fully emerged. This will see Teams move from Electron to WebView2 and should significantly improve performance for desktop users.
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