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 the calendar, meeting, and chat features in Teams.
Features such as 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 co-workers carpooling to organize transportation. Facebook, Reddit, Discord, WhatsApp, Twitter, and many other services already offer a variety of ways to organize groups online, so Microsoft is entering a crowded market, but it thinks Teams has something different to offer.
Amit Fulay, vice president of product at Microsoft, said in an interview with the edge. “These are very distinct from pure fan communities or discussion communities, and where I think our strengths as a company…is our ability to provide these productivity tools.”
Microsoft has created a set of templates for Teams users to quickly create communities, and those sets will be limited to the free consumer version of Teams at launch today. Microsoft Teams apps on iOS and Android will support communities today, with desktop versions to follow in the coming weeks. You will also be able to easily find shared photos and files within groups without having to install them.
Communities in Teams also bring new coordination challenges to Microsoft. While the company has experience managing Xbox, Skype, and other consumer services that require moderation, it largely plans to follow the Discord model of expecting communities to enforce their own rules and for admins to curate their own groups.
“We already have a centralized digital security team,” explains Foley. “We have a lot of experience across Xbox and services like Flipgrid that work on moderation. The way things are reported and moderated, we have teams that are central to that.”
Microsoft Teams communities require a Microsoft account, and groups can easily invite others to join with a link. If this link is accidentally shared or misused, admins can quickly change the invite link to manage who joins their community. Since the Communities feature is built on top of Teams, any virtual meetings have features like a lobby to ensure that only community members join the calls.
The launch of Communities in Microsoft Teams comes nearly two years after Microsoft discussed the acquisition of Discord. Microsoft also failed to take over TikTok and Pinterest and showed great interest in online communities and creators. Microsoft was willing to spend big on these services because, outside of Xbox, it doesn’t have a huge consumer-facing community like competitors Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple.
Communities in Teams could help fill a huge gap for Microsoft, but it’s still very early days and the feature set seems fairly basic at the moment. Unlike Discord, you can’t simply have an ongoing call with your group online, and the Communities feature in Teams seems to be more structured around a strict form of organization.
“We’re just getting started,” says Manik Gupta, CVP for Teams Consumer at Microsoft, in an interview with Microsoft. the edge. “We’ll see where our users come from and how we direct our roadmap. We’ll look at how people use the product and iterate on that.”
Microsoft hired Gupta over a year ago to lead its new consumer applications efforts in-house, and he’s now in charge of the Teams client. This means that we see some improvements in the user experience of the Microsoft communications tool. Microsoft Teams users often complain about performance issues or confusing aspects of the consumer version of Teams built into Windows 11 and then have to launch a separate app to access the work/school version.
“One of the things I wish I could bring [to Teams] It’s the same level of simplicity and end-user-focused approach to building the entire product,” says Gupta. Microsoft has been incrementally improving Teams performance over the past year, including some Recent latency and framework improvementsHowever, the promised “Microsoft Teams 2.0” has not yet fully appeared. This will see teams move from Electron to WebView2 and should significantly improve performance for desktop users.