The most recent round of Valve's Steam-tinkering brings in changes to Steam community groups, aimed at simplifying the process of joining them and cutting down on their misuse by spammers. Valve said the current system was fine when Steam "was a smaller and simpler place," but now neither of those things are true and it's all kind of schmozzle.
The first problem is that under the old system, there were only two kinds of groups: Public, which are open to anyone, and Private, requiring an invitation. But finagling an invitation, even in situations where a closed group makes sense, "is more complicated and messy than it needed to be."
Thus, Valve has implemented a new "Restricted" type of Steam group that users can request entry to. Applications go to group admins, who will either approve or deny the request. Restricted groups will effectively fall between the previous two group types, Public and Closed (by invite only), which will remain as options.
"Any group that was previously a 'Private group' will be converted to a 'Restricted group,' which will allow users to request to join your group," Valve said. "This can be changed any time by the group owner. If your group is currently set to 'Restricted' and you change the type to 'Closed,' we’ll go ahead and decline any pending requests to join your group. Subsequently, if you change your group from 'Restricted' to 'Public' we'll approve all pending requests."
Valve also noted that group invites have evolved "from helpful to spammy" over the years, and that a growing number of "organized spammers are using bots to create groups on a huge scale." Spammers make new groups, use bots to invite random Steam users to join them, and once they've built up a large enough audience they "use these groups to advertise various websites or offers by posting frequent announcements to the members."
The problem is apparently more serious than it might sound—Valve said that at times, "the number of new groups created explicitly for spamming outweigh the legitimate groups"—and so to combat it, the system has been changed so that invitations to groups can only be sent to people on your Steam friends list. "This still maintains the common uses of forming a closed group to hang out with your friends, or creating a restricted group for people of similar interests or achievements," Valve said.
"These new features and improvements should make it easier to join groups that you are interested in while eliminating the spam group invites that show up in your Steam inbox. Over the next few weeks, we'll also be working on identifying and banning networks of groups that have been mass-created and exist for the sole purpose of spamming."