Perhaps the most used group tool is the Discussion Forum. In simple terms, someone starts a Forum Topic and others Reply to it. To post a new topic, either scroll down, past all your old topics, or simply click on “new Topic”:

You will see the following New Topic form. Provide a topic title and start typing your content.

Similar to WP posts, there are formatting tools are available to you and you have the option to switch from Visual to Text view, if you want to edit the HTML markup. You can embed images and videos, add links, block quotes, numbering, bullet points, and more.

Topic types can be normal or sticky. If you want a topic to “stick” to the top, your can make your topic sticky (see below).  Otherwise, the most recent topic is displayed at the beginning of a discussion forum. This is especially useful if you are using the Commons to teach a class. You may want to post important contact information and class links in one post, and make it easy for your students to find, and comment on if they need help. The sticky topic option is only available to admins of the group.

Members of a group can use email notification settings to determine how they are notified of new topics and replies.

If you want your group to be able to reply to your topic, leave the Topic Status as Open. If you want to close the topic, click “Close.” There are a number of other actions that are available if you are an admin of the group. See below:

Reply, Nested Reply, or Quote

All members of the group have the option to reply to the discussion topic, reply to a another member’s reply, or quote another member’s reply.

  • Reply – your reply will be displayed in at the bottom of the thread. Simply scroll down to the end of the topic and add your reply.
  • Nested Reply – your reply will be displayed (or “nested”) underneath the reply that it refers to. Scroll down to the reply you wish to reply to and click on “Reply”
  • Quote – your reply will appear at the bottom of the thread, but it will include a text box containing the reply you are referring to. This clarifies what your reply is about. To quote a reply, scroll up to the it and click on “Quote.” Then add your reply.

File attachments can be added at any point of the discussion thread. You can attach one or more files, and these will automatically be added as an item in the Group Library.

You can cross post a topic to other groups that you are a member of and that you have rights to post. See Post To Multiple Groups, highlighted above.

Reply by Email

Members do not have to be logged on the the Commons to reply to topics. Once they receive an email notification, they can reply using their email client. This is not available if you choose to receive notification “digests.” See email notification settings.

Read More About Reply By Email


You don’t need to “log on” to the Commons to respond to group email notifications.  Participate in group discussions by simply clicking Reply in your email client.  Our plugin Reply By Email takes care of the rest!

Respond to personal messages in the same way, and in both cases, you can attach files, and those files will be available to your group or friend.

You can even post a new topic via email.  Make sure you send from the email address shown in your Commons settings and use the group’s quick link appended by “”  For example, if the group’s quick link is, post your topic to:  “”.  The  subject line will become the new topic’s title. Depending upon your group’s email settings, your new topic can trigger notifications to group members.

A Few Caveats

  • When you receive a Commons email notification, you’ll notice the phrase “— Reply ABOVE THIS LINE to add a comment —“ (circled in red, above). Anything you type above this line will be part of the message posted to the forum, while everything below this line will be ignored But it is vital that the line itself be present in the reply. Reply By Email uses this info to route your reply back to the Commons. (Depending on your email client, when you hit reply, you might see additional address information added. Don’t worry – this will not be part of your response.)
  • You must reply using the same email address at which you received the notification – Reply By Email uses this as a way of matching you up with your Commons username. (Not an issue for most people, but it may affect those who have set up their email client with multiple email addresses.)
  • You can use Reply by Email to reply to discussion threads on group forums, to personal messages and @mentions, and to group announcements.
  • Attachments are allowed for group forum emails.  To attach a file, use the familiar method provided by your email client.  Our attachment size limit is 3MB. Keep in mind that you cannot attach files for daily or weekly group digest emails.
    You can also tell if attachments are allowed by checking the email footer:
  • You cannot use Reply by Email to reply to notification “digests,” Docs notifications (new docs, edited docs, new comments), group file uploads, group invites, or friendship requests.

See here for further technical details.

Post New Topics By Email

You can also post new topics by email by using the email address assigned to the group. The group email can be found here:

How to email the group:

  • Compose a new email from the same email address you registered with –[this address will be provided when you click the “?”]
  • Put the address, highlighted above, in the “To:” field of the email
  • The email subject will become the topic title

Download Individual Topic To CSV File

An admin of a group can download individual forum topics and their replies to a CSV file:


This is especially useful if you are using the discussion forum for teaching. You can sort the resulting spreadsheet by student to quantify participation in the topic.





The Commons displays Forum Posts in chronological order, with the most recent post at the bottom. Most often when you reply to a post, it is right above yours or perhaps only one or two before that. There are times, however, when it is handy to reply to an old post. When this happens, it helps to refer back to the old post, which you can do by “quoting it.” Simply find the post that you need to reply to and click the quote link as shown below.

Linking social media profiles to groups

Social and you know it? If you’re an admin, you can link your group to your non-Commons social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Flickr, YouTube and Delicious! You’ll find these option in your group Manage tabs under Social Media Accounts:






Privacy Settings

There are three types of groups on the Commons, and each has differing levels of privacy. As the needs of a group change and evolve, they may want to adjust their group settings from private to public, or vice versa. There are a few things that group admins should keep in mind before they change their group settings from private to public.

  • Public Groups: Public groups are open to all members of the Commons, and their content can be viewed by everyone on the internet. Members of the Commons can request to join groups and are automatically added. Group members can be notified whenever new forum posts are published. Non-group members who are members of the Commons may may comment on group forums, but they cannot start new topics.
  • Private Groups: Non-members cannot view Private groups forums. Commons members may request membership, but group admins must grant access. All content is private.
  • Hidden Groups: Hidden groups are invisible to non-members. These are open by invitation only. Once membership is granted, the group will become visible on the new member’s profile page.  All content is private.

Is there anything that can’t be public?
Once a group is public, all docs, files, and forum threads will be visible to members outside of the group. The Commons team recommends looking over these areas for files or threads that the group may not deem appropriate for public consumption and either editing or deleting accordingly.


Group Site

Lastly, if you have the group site enabled, changing your group from private to public won’t automatically change the privacy settings of your site. To update the settings of your group site, please visit the “Group site” setting in the Admin panel.


The Commons Events Calendar supports individual, group, and global calendars. Designed to publicize events created by the friends you’ve developed on the Commons or to the groups you belong to (and which you choose to notify), Events Calendar provides a convenient way to see all CUNY events or filter events that are pertinent to you.

An event can the following you to see want is going on delivers email notifications about events with vital information, including:

  • Event title
  • A rich description, that allows for links, images, etc.
  • Start and end times
  • Venue (including a map)
  • Whether or not this is a recurring event
  • Commons groups who have been invited

The information is also conveniently aggregated with other Commons events and displayed on individual, group, and global calendars. You can browse through your individual calendar, or look through your groups’ calendars to find events, and click to see details.

  • As an individual, you can check out your personal calendar to see all events targeted for the groups to which you belong, and the events that have been entered by your friends.
  • As a group member, you can access your group’s calendar to find events specifically targeted to your group.
  • As a member of the Commons, you can (soon) access the global calendar and see what events are happening in public groups.

my events

Accessing Your Individual Calendar

There are several ways to access your individual calendar once you are logged into the Commons.

  • Hover over your avatar in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Here you will see a new option called “My Events” (pictured at the right).
  • You can also visit your “Commons Profile.” Here you will see a new tab called “My Events.”

When you click on “My Events>>Calendar” you will see events entered by you, your friends, or by members of groups to which you belong. The calendar grid provides a convenient way to plan your schedule.

my cal

If you click on the “Upcoming Events” tab you’ll see a more condensed view, displayed as a list. No matter which view you choose, you can click on each event for its metadata.


The “Manage” tab is useful when you have events that are in draft, and that you have not yet published.

Accessing Group Calendars

omekaGroup calendars can be accessed from a new tab in the group menu called “Events” (see image on the right). Group calendars are different from individual calendars in that they display events to which they are specifically targeted.

If you click on “ New Event” from inside your group, the event you enter will be automatically added to your group new groupcalendar.  But don’t stop there.  You can add other groups that you think will be interested in the event you are publicizing.   You can add public, private and hidden groups, provided you belong to them.  And as stated before, the members of these groups will be notified by email, and events will display on their individual and group calendars.

Understanding Privacy

  • Your personal calendar is discrete from everyone else’s and is private to you.
  • Events you enter from your personal calendar are visible to your friends on the Commons. They will be notified by email upon publication.
  • When creating an individual event, you can target the groups you belong to.
  • If the only group your choose is private or hidden, only those members will be notified.
  • If you post from a private or hidden group, no trace of the event will display except on the calendars of those belonging to those private or hidden groups.
  • If you include a public group, those members will be notified, and the event will be added to the group.
  • All “Public” group events will be viewable on the global calendar, but notification emails will not be sent to everyone on the Commons.

Adding Events to Your Commons Personal or Group Calendar via the iCalendar API

The Commons Events Calendar is compatible with other iCalendar APIs. This means that you can either:

  • bring specific events into your group’s calendar via an “ics” file,
  • subscribe to another compatible calendar and add all its current and future events.

If using a group calendar only group admins can add events via this interface.

Adding To Your Personal Calendar

In your Commons Portfolio, click on Events:

Click on “Manage.”

Adding To Your Group Calendar

This option is only available to admins of the group. Click on the Events tab on the group sidebar.

Then click on “Manage.”

Managing Your Calendar

From this point, interface for personal calendars and group calendars is the same. You have the option to either import a specific event from a downloaded “.ics”file or to subscribe to a calendar “feed.” See below:


Adding Events to your personal iCal, Google, MS Outlook, or similar third party iCalendar APIs

If you use Apple iCal, Google Calendar, MS Outlook, or a similar iCalendar API, you can automatically add an individual event from your Commons calendars.  Click on the event to add it by clicking the “Download iCal file” hyperlink (highlighted below).  It will be added to your third party calendar.

Alternatively, if you would like to synchronize your third party calendar with your Commons calendar or your group’s Commons calendar, you can “Subscribe.” Scroll down to the bottom of the calendar and find the Subscribe section, pictured below:

This example is from an individual member who belongs to both public and private groups. If it was a group calendar, only one link would be available.

It is important to note that if you click on the subscribe hyperlink, you will only get the events that are currently in the calendar.

Depending on your needs, it might be better to synchronize your third-party calendar.

Synchronizing Your Third Party Calendar

Instead of clicking on the hyperlink, hover over the link and copy the URL and then paste it in the appropriate place in your third-party’s calendar. Each API is different.

Apple iCal

  1. Open Calendar API
  2. click on File>>New Calendar Subscription
  3. paste in URL
  4. Adjust settings as needed

Google Calendar

  1.  Open Google Calendar
  2. Click on Other calendars
  3. Click on From URL and paste in the URL

Please Note that Google Calendar sometimes takes up to 24 hours to refresh



Site-Wide Calendar

The Commons site-wide calendar is a great way to see what’s happening all over CUNY.  It shows events added to public groups, but will not display events only associated to private or hidden groups. You can access from the Commons home page, on the “Events” tab or at


The Commons’ powerful email notification system lets members of a group know when other members post content. Used in conjunction with a group blog, it lets you set up a nice place to share content and get feedback.

Read More About Group Email Notification Settings

Each time a member does something in a group, such as join the group, add an item to the Group Library or the add a topic or reply to a topic in the Discussion Forum, the action is added to the Group Activity stream and an email notification is generated.

Individual members of the group can choose how to “read” the particular group, that is, when should they be notified (if at all) when some activity takes place. Some settings are available on the group level, others pertain to all the groups a member belongs.

How Do You Want To “Read” This Group

Members can easily control how they get group email notifications. Go to your group, and click on Email options tab, highlighted below.


This same setting can be changed from the Group Page – you will see the current way you are reading the group and you can simply click on the “Change” button to switch to another of the five options.

Additionally, you can select what kind of activity you want to be notified about. This applies to all groups to which you belong.

To do this, go to your Commons Profile, and click on Settings, or simply hover over profile photo and select My Settings>>Notifications.  Here you can also set  Email Subscription Options (see above), on a group level.


Since the model presented below involves group blogs, here’s a quick look at what they are.

Group sites are not appropriate for every group, but for many, they can provide a platform for members to post ideas, embed media, announce events, and aggregate category and tag based content.

The Group and Group Site Model

So here’s how a group admin might use a group site to make a space where members can create content, and read and comment on each other’s work:

  • The group admin creates a group and attaches group blog
  • When members join the group, they are automatically signed up as authors on the group blog
  • They write and publish posts
  • Each time a post is published, an email notification is sent out to the group
  • Members click on the link, read the post, and can comment

Members of course still use the discussion forum, and each time they post to the forum, a notification is sent out. For these they can reply by email, without even logging into the Commons. (See “Reply by Email.”) Members can use BP Docs to collaborate on projects, and similarly, when a major edit occurs, members are notified by email.

This pedagogical model is often used on the Commons to teach courses: students join a group with their classmates. The group has a private site attached to it, and they are automatically added as users to the site. They do their assignments as blog posts. Whenever a student publishes a post, an excerpt automatically shows up on the group’s activity stream, and each group member is notified by email (depending upon their notification settings), that one of their peers has posted some content. If the content is a site post, they can click on the link, read the rest of the post, and comment. If the content is a forum post, they can read it in its entirety, and reply by email, from the comfort of their inbox.


We automatically invite all new group administrators and moderators to ‘The Group for Group for Admins.’ While joining the group is optional, we encourage you to come aboard and take part in the discussion. If you decline the invitation and decide at a later date that you would like to join you can always find ‘The Group for Group Admins’ by searching for it under the ‘Groups’ tab or following this link.


Using Groups on the Commons

There are over 900 groups on the Commons.  A quick glance shows the varied ways members use groups.  Groups are great for teaching on the Commons, and many professors activate an associated group WordPress site to complement their courses.  Groups are also great for managing committees, programs, and departments.  Files such as minutes, forms, and policies can be uploaded to a group site and accessed by all members.  Group forums enable lively discussion on topics and our wiki-like “Docs” allow members to collaborate on documents.  Groups often form around a common interest and bring together members from different campuses.

Participation can take place either on the Commons site itself or from the comfort of your email client.  You can create new forum posts or reply to forum posts via email.

You can customize the way you want to be notified of group activity. You can get an email immediately, or you can get daily or weekly digests of activity. And you can configure these notifications according to type. This is a very powerful feature for groups. For more information, see Receiving Notifications.

Example Of A Public Group

Initial Setup – for Group Admins

Admins are the primary organizers of a group, and are responsible for setting it up and getting members to join. For more information, see “How to Create, Join and Maintain Groups.” Listed below are some suggestions that might help you get your group up and running.

  • Join the Group for Group Admins, a meta-group for group administrators and moderators to meet and discuss group management, share tips on different tools, and stay up to date with the Commons team on current and future changes on the site.
  • Find an avatar for your group.
  • Write a succinct statement of purpose.
  • Decide whether your group will be public, private or hidden.

    Public, Private, or Hidden

    • Public Groups – With a public group everything the group creates is visible on the Commons: the group page, member list, and forum posts. No permission is required to join a public group. Public groups can also enable group sites and set different roles for members.
    • Private Groups – In a private group certain elements of the group are not visible to those who are not members. Only members can see the member list and forum posts. The group does appear in the list on the Commons Groups page, but non-members can only view a simplified version of the group page. You must request membership to join a private group.
    • Hidden Groups – A hidden group is invisible on the Commons to everyone except for group members. The group page, member list, and forum posts are all hidden from the public.
  • Swamped? Delegate… Add additional admins to your group. Or add some group moderators. Admins will have the same permissions as you. Group moderators will be able to do a subset of the things you are allowed to do, including the ability to send announcements to the rest of the group.

Administrators can do the following things that moderators cannot do:

    • Change group settings, eg turn group site on or off, turn group forums on or off, change group status from public to private, etc.
    • Change group avatar
    • Manage group members: ie kick/ban members, promote/demote members
    • Delete the group

Group moderators can do the following things that normal members cannot do:

    • Edit the Group Details, including the name of the group and group description
    • Edit, close, and delete forum topics/posts
    • Edit/delete group documents
  • Think about ways to attract members. Do you want to invite people to join? You might want to check out who belongs to a related group, or who is on the same campus, etc.
  • If appropriate, consider creating a Twitter or Facebook account for your group. If you have a group site, consider using a plugin such as Twitter Tools to automatically tweet group site posts.

Understand Your Tool Options

Groups feature the following collaborative tools:

  • Home – every group has a home page that can be used to describe its focus.  In addition, every group has an customizable email address, a customizable quick link, and a an activity stream that can be filtered by specific activities.
  • Group Forums (if activated) –  probably the most used and easiest to understand. Any member can start a forum thread. On public groups, non-group members may comment on a thread. Files and images may be attached to either the thread, or the comment.
  • Group Library – a convenient way to manage files uploads, editable docs, and externals links (including Google Docs, Dropbox files, Zoom meetings, etc. ).
  • Send Invites – know someone who would be interested in your group and is a member of the Commons? It’s easy to invite that person to join.
  • Group Sites (if activated) – Group sites are a great way to extend group functionality and share what your group is doing. A group site is basically a WordPress site in which all members of your group are also  either subscribers, contributors, editors, or admins of the site. Group sites can be public or private.
  • External Sites (if activated) – Are there external sites that are of interest to your group? If so, you can include their RSS feeds in your group’s activity stream. Each time a post is published, you will get notified (depending upon your notification settings).
  • Group Event Calendar – A convenient way to establish milestones, schedule activities, events, and due dates


Getting Your Voice Heard

So with all the tools available, there’s probably no one “best way” to get your point across, but here are some things to consider when you stack related functionality up against each other in search of the magic bullet.

  • Forum posts vs. Group Blog posts. Forum posts are perhaps better at soliciting member feedback. Posts on blogs have more embedded functionality, and you can style and revise them better.
  • Upload Files vs. BP Docs. Files are static. BP Docs are collaborative, living documents that change. Both are extremely useful, but their functionality doesn’t really overlap.

Other Resources

The following instructions pertain to an existing group. You can create a Connected Group + Site in one action. See How To Create A Connection Group + Site.

A group admin can connect one site (aka, a “website”) to a group.   On the group home page, and click “Manage” to display the group’s settings.  Then click on “Group Site link. Check the box next to “enable group site”:

Decide to start a new site or connect an existing one to your group. Enable member posting if you want your group members to be authors on the blog. You will also be asked to set WordPress roles for administrators, moderators and members.

Click “Save Changes” and the “Site” link should now appear on the left navigation area of the group.


The URL is now confirmed, and you also have the option to uncouple the site whenever you want.