Facebook recently announced a clutch of products for India, including its new camera feature that comes with localised filters. At a special event in Mumbai recently, Facebook showcased its products, ranging from WhatsApp to Oculus to Instagram. However, the focus of the keynote address, delivered by Facebook Groups' global head Adit Vaidya, was on community building and the role of Facebook Groups. Groups is a popular Facebook feature that lets users band together and form an online community based on mutual interests, hobbies, family ties, or anything else that could bring a group of people together. Vaidya spoke about how Groups can play a crucial role in the event of calamities and its usefulness in disaster relief.
In a chat with HuffPost India, Vaidya spoke on a range of topics. Here are edited excerpts.
How do you see people using Facebook and Facebook Groups in India?
We are seeing very inspiring ways in which people use Facebook in India. It is one of the most important countries for us worldwide. There are a number of unique ways in which communities are using Facebook Groups. Earlier this week, we met many of the Group builders to understand their story — such as the Clothes Box Foundation, which helps underprivileged children get clothes. Members are able to connect the donor and the recipient on Facebook and that is fantastic.
There are many online usergroups and communities in India, such as 'Flats Without Brokers' for instance. Would Facebook Groups be able to provide any customisation for such groups?
The guiding principal for when we build a product is that we look at how different people are using it. The idea of making a list for selling items and giving different tools to the seller came from that use- case. Facebook looks at these cases and sees how it can make the experience better.
If people want to open a fitness related group, we will give features to help them set a goal. The 'Community Help' feature [which activates after natural calamities or disasters] for instance, is also filled with people who have not met in real life but want to connect with people with similar interests.
You mentioned in you keynote address that disaster management is something Facebook is keen on. How can Facebook Groups help the cause?
The idea behind the 'Safety Check' and 'Community Help' features came from people who had experienced natural calamities. 'Safety Check' helps in checking if your loved ones are safe [in the event of a disturbance or calamity]. But we have integrated the 'Community Help' feature to 'Safety Check' as well so that people who want offer food or water can be connected with people who need the help.
We have seen that many groups are being created when a natural calamity strikes. What are you doing to ensure that people are actually able to find the relevant communities?
Discoverability of a group is now our team's main focus, especially around 'Community Help'. Not just during times of need, but to enable people to find groups based on their hobbies and interests we have introduced the discover feature for Groups.
What steps have you taken to ensure the security and safety of members belonging to any Facebook group?
We have built different tools for people to stay safe and report content that doesn't belong on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg talked about this in his letter to the community as well. We are always eager to educate users about safety.
What is the roadmap for Groups in India?
Facebook is looking more towards building help-communities as well as groups where people of similar interest can safely share things they are interested in. In India, parenting, food, and sports groups are largely popular. We want to help people find the relevant communities.