Starting today, we’re rolling out some updates to LinkedIn groups – the first major update since we launched discussions in Groups at the end of August 2008. This is the first of upcoming upgrades to our groups’ platform, conversation system, and moderation toolkit coming shortly. Please bear in mind that these updates will be rolled out over the next week, by when you should see these feature updates applied to your groups.

Here’s a quick video that walks you through the key features you can expect from the new LinkedIn Groups. More details after the jump.

What’s different in LinkedIn Groups today?

1. An improved look and feel

We’ve made the conversations within groups similar to face-to-face professional interactions by removing the wall between original remarks and off-site content such as shared news articles. The rich link-sharing experience you already enjoy on your LinkedIn homepage is now also available within the context of groups.

Even better is the ability to easily recognize the participants of a conversation by linking to individual profile pictures that makes the experience more personal. It also brings to your finger tips profile information of the professional participating in that discussion.

2. Ease of use

The new design makes it easy to browse through the latest updates of a discussion and make comments quickly and easily. You can roll over the images of the last three participants on any thread to see comment previews and click their profile pictures to jump to their segment  of the conversation.

Alternatively, you can chime in right away by commenting in line without drilling down into the whole discussion. If you’re new to the thread, clicking the discussion headline or the “See all comments” link will take you to the beginning of the discussion.

3. Surfacing the most popular and recent discussions in a group – faster

A key part of the new groups experience is the democratization of discussions, as group members actively curate the conversations that will be seen by the group. This is most obvious in the carousel of new content – original posts, RSS items, and off-site links shared by group members – that can be voted up or down by any group member.

This feature allows users to quickly peruse new content and vote either by “liking” or commenting on discussions they deem worthy of the group’s attention.  Users who prefer to see all discussions sorted chronologically can just click on the “See all new discussions” link on the homepage.

In a live discussion, nodding fuels a conversation and the new “Like” button is a simple way to do this virtually.  You can also see who has liked a conversation to get a sense for topics that group members are gravitating toward. The “More” drop-down in the carousel also makes it easy to flag new items as a job or as inappropriate for the group.

4. Making it easier for you to receive email updates from select group members

While you may check in to groups ever so often to get the latest news and discussions from your fellow group members, you may also like to set up a persistent email alert when select members of the group make a contribution (like or comment) within the group. This is easily accomplished from the global Groups’ People I’m Following page.

5. Shining a spotlight on users who add most value to the group each week

Finally, the new groups interface introduces an easy way to discover participants who truly drive the activity of the group’s discussions each week by highlighting them as “top influencers”.  This designation is given not only to those who contribute the most, but also to those whose contributions stimulate the most participation from other group members.

Members who are highly regarded and heavily followed in the group often play a key role in stoking the conversation with their comments and Likes even if they don’t start a thread.  Of course, the authors of popular threads are often the most influential.

We’re all about nurturing the professional conversation, and we hope the changes to LinkedIn Groups will make it even easier for you to contribute and participate in a professional groups setting. We’d love to hear your feedback, so please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post or @linkedin us on Twitter.