Upon Google’s removal of most of its Groups’ functionality, we were forced to find an alternative home for our Marketing Group’s webplace. I didn’t fall in love with any of the options, though there are many (many). I easily narrowed it down to three winners, though, so we figured we’d share that information with you. And, for what it’s worth, I’ll talk about the others, too.

The Winners.

We ended up going with Grouply. Grouply offers the basic features that are necessary for professional use: a customizable appearance, a file vault, and the ability to directly add members. Moreover, the main page format is quite flexible with its display of a whiteboard, discussion, news, and events. The administrator of a group can create subgroups, and add page tabs, as well. What sold Grouply to us, however, was the versatility of the member profiles, which supported our objective of allowing our members to market themselves. And, Grouply has a few package levels. Grouply offers a free version, and premium versions provide useful features like ad removal and url mapping. Although we’re generally happy with Grouply, I have two complaints. First, we’re currently relying on Mediafire as a repository for our audio files because large files (very large, admittedly) run into an error timing out during upload. Even after compressing our large audio files, they won’t upload. And, I’m pretty sure I compressed them correctly. Additionally, I’ve had some administrative trouble with associating an authorized email address, which then spiraled into log-in trouble, as well.

Groupsite, does not have a free option. Its prices seem reasonable, though: 50 users with5 GB storage costs $29/month; 150 users with 5 GB storage costs $49/month; and 300 users with 10 GB costs $99/month. Groupsite offers the full range of features one would look for, including unlimited subgroups, a customizable appearance, the ability to add pages, and url mapping. We chose Grouply over Groupsite based on the interface and member profile features, and that’s about it.

OfficeZilla offers less in the area of member profile customization (i.e., self promotion), which is only a drawback if you are specifically looking for a platform that provides such, for a specific reason, as we were. One of our goals for our marketing group was to allow our members to market themselves, to lay the groundwork for referrals. Had this not been the case, I totally would have recommended OfficeZilla, which supports subgroups, the direct adding of members, and does not display advertising. And the most basic concerns speak in its favor, too: there are no storage limits, no member number limits, and it is free, private, and secure.

The Others.

SocialGo is the best among the professional networking sites, which of course, focus more on networking than any other professional purpose (e.g. aggregating resources). SocialGo seems to offer all the features a professional group would need. However, from what I can tell, this platform is designed to support a group of professionals, rather than a professional group. Events and files appear to be linked to an individual profile, rather than a group. Having noted that, group members can share photos and discussions, and they can send mass messages. So, it would seem that you probably could use group feature in conjunction with an administrator profile to serve most of your purposes. One final note, though: there isn’t too much flexibility with plan options.

There are other options, none of which I like, but some of which I will mention anyhow, just so you know I looked into them.

Grou.ps is similar to SocialGo, as a social network site, with features sufficient for professional use. But, I find it to be inconveniently fancy, without offering any improvement on useful features found on other sites.

BigTent offers only very basic features. And, there is no upgrading its free version.

Spruze has limited email broadcasting, which I consider a dealbreaker, particularly without offering anything unique to the group site candidate pool.

Wall.fm is very limited, though it is also new, and still in development. More importantly, it is very targeted to social purposes, almost exclusively so.

Other group sites, not mentioned herein, are not tailored for professional use… at all. Some of these social group sites, particularly the most well-known, Yahoo! Groups, do offer a variety of features that could be professionally useful, like event calendars and polls, but have so many distracting features that I could never imagine why anyone would choose to use one for professional purposes.