LinkedIn announced today a bundle of updates to its Groups pages\u2014the section of the social networking site dedicated to communities of professionals based on common interests, experiences, affiliations and goals. This update, rolling to users out throughout this week, is the first major facelift for LinkedIn since Groups launched in August 2009. [5 LinkedIn Groups to Boost Your Social Media Savvy]The changes are intended to make Groups easier to use, highlight popular discussions and recognize users who add the most value to groups each week. Here's a rundown of what you can expect to see.1. Streamlined, more personal presentation of discussions. LinkedIn is changing the presentation of the discussion threads to make them easier to read and more personal. "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," says Ian McCarthy, principal product manager at LinkedIn. [Want more LinkedIn tips and tricks? Check out "LinkedIn Tips: Getting More from the Social Networking Service."]With the new design, you can also roll over the images of the last three participants on any thread to see comment previews and click profile pictures to jump directly to a person's segment of the conversation.2. Easily track your contributions to discussions.LinkedIn is implementing a new dashboard that keeps track of the discussion threads you've participated in, making it easier to monitor past discussions and follow up. When you click on your own LinkedIn photo, you'll see all of your updates, as well as what's changed in the discussions you've started, joined or are following. 3. Get more from discussions. Another new feature is the group's "carousel," which is similar to Google Reader Play. This feature is another way to browse and participate in the most popular and relevant conversations, which include original posts, RSS items and links shared by group members. Using the arrows, browse discussions and vote them up or down using the "Like" and "Pass" buttons. Or, you can choose to add your thoughts to the thread by clicking "Comment."Finally, you'll notice a new box highlighting the "top influencers" of a group. These participants are selected based on who contributes to a discussion or group the most, as well as those whose contributions stimulate the most participation from other group members."We hope the changes to LinkedIn Groups will make it even easier for you to contribute and participate in a professional groups setting," says McCarthy.\n\nStaff Writer Kristin Burnham covers consumer Web and social technologies for CIO.com. She writes frequently on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. You can follow her on Twitter: @kmburnham.