I've been blogging about the pending demise of MSN Groups, and some about the replacements - most specifically Multiply and Windows Live Groups. Multiply because it is the chosen replacement for MSN Groups, and Windows Live Groups since it is Microsoft's own answer to MSN groups.
So far nothing has come close to the versatility and ease of use that MSN Groups has had.
No other service allowed for custom webpages, for custom logos and buttons and separated messageboards. Nothing was as easy to use as MSN Groups. Just fill out the forms and bingo! You're good to go. The webpage interface wasn't exactly WYSIWYG, but it was close and allowed for far more colors than Windows Live Groups allows for (in fact, WLG doesn't give you background colors for your discussion pages, which is the only place you can use HTML. Pretty much the same for Multiply.) You could easily hide pages, rearrange pages, add new albums, use the pictures from those albums in other spots... the learning curve was as shallow or steep as you wanted it to be. It accommodated both the novice webmaster and the more experienced. It was a great starting place for fandom groups; and a lot of fandoms were represented there.
What will happen to those many fandom groups? Well, some of them will be lost forever come February because their owners just sort of abandoned them to the spammers before this point. There's at least one Thunderbirds group I know of that falls into this category. It has a lot of interesting fanfic on it, but the owner has grown beyond it and has left it for the "lonely singles" spammers to keep it active (otherwise, it would have been deleted years ago). Some groups will migrate to Multiply, some to Geocities, some to Windows Live Groups... they'll be scattered all over, and harder to find. The close-knit communities that had developed over the years will be broken up, never to truly be reclaimed again. A lot of interesting and unique fandom creations will disappear forever. I've already had that happen once to me; the thought of it happening again makes me sick.
Is there a perfect solution to this forced diaspora? Not really. If you want to have the same flexibility as MSN Groups has, you've got to create your own website, and very likely, you'll have to pay for it. And if you want to continue having a free site, you'll have to pay in other ways, with intrusive ads or with a loss of those features you've become accustomed to. (Yes, MSN Groups has ads, but because of their placement, they are ignorable.)
As a side issue, I've been poking around the Windows Live team blogs for the past few days, and I noticed that they're not asking for feedback on WLG. Everything else, yes. Windows Live Groups, no. I think they know what kind of response they'd get there: a very angry one from a large group of disgruntled MSN Group owners.
So, we're losing a piece of fandom property. What's to go next?
ETA: I'm also aware that AOL is/was dumping their Groups. So there are more fandom communities disappearing. Let's hope that Yahoo doesn't join the pack.