While pondering critique groups, it seems the answer always come down to one important thing:
Isn't it true that you have to trust the people in your critique group—their judgment, their character, their expertise, their sincerity—or the experience is a wasted effort? Like any social grouping, critique groups are only as strong as their strongest member(s). So give as well as take.
Someone asked if posting your work on an online critique site, especially if the membership is closed, counts as publication. The answer, from our perspective, is not really as it isn’t posted in a public place where anyone and everyone can download it and/or read it (the exception, of course, is if you have a million people critiquing your work, which might get a little sticky). Also, you are probably not posting the whole piece in its entirety, or shouldn’t be.
Where does trust issue come in? Just like in a regular critique group, you have to trust that what you are posting isn’t being copied and offered somewhere else. You also have to trust the credentials of the person or people offering feedback, especially since many posters hide their identities online and may or may not be who they claim to be or know what they are talking about. So the whole thing boils down to the fact that you have to trust the information you receive and trust that you to know what to do with any feedback you might receive.
Online critique sites can have value, just like regular face to face type groups, but as one commenter pointed out, do read the Terms of Service and know how many people can access your work and how. Generally, if you're posting in a closed membership area for critiquing, that’s not considered publication. However, know all the rules of the site and get to know the people doing critiques before posting your work online anywhere.
A good rule is that if you don’t feel comfortable with any situation, wait and think about it before making a commitment to it. Trust your instincts.
Remember also that critique groups are a social outlet. Have fun with them. We get questions about them quite a bit at conferences and so we are going to do at least a few more posts on our take and experiences with them.