Tag: Google (page 2 of 5)

3 principles for a more Open approach.

This exchange on Google+ with Rob Poulter (referencing my previous post on platforms and standards) got me thinking. The highlights are below.

Rob:

Ultimately I don’t think the problem is between native vs web, the problem is one of closed vs open, and not in a Google PR way. The things we tend to care about in the online world are services, not apps. Services see us passing responsibility for our data on to a third party, and usually based on features rather than interoperability or longevity. At the end of the day, if there’s something which we would mind losing, it’s our responsibility to keep it, not some third party.

Doug:

My issue, I suppose is platforms becoming de facto standards because ‘everyone uses them’. Kind of like Dropbox and Twitter and so on…

There’s definitely an elision which I need to resolve in my thinking between ‘HTML5 webapps’ and ‘openness’. Thanks for the pointers!

Rob:

The standards thing is tough I guess. Who wants to be the business that boasts of how easy it is to jump ship? Especially for social applications like Twitter, Facebook, G+ etc (Dropbox and other personal services not so much since they tend to compete on features and can’t rely on “hey, all your friends are here, you’re not going anywhere”).

I pointed out that Google Takeout actually does allow you to export your data from Google to other platforms. But, as Rob responded, not the comments on other people’s posts.

All of this made me think about my principles for using software and web services. It reminded me of Baltasar Gracian’s constant reminders in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (which I read on constant repeat) that it’s easy to begin well, but it’s the ending well that counts.

So, I’ve come up three principles to guide me:

  1. I will use free and Open Source software wherever possible. (I’m after the sustainable part of OSS, not the ‘free’ part)
  2. If this is not possible then I will look for services which have a paid-for ‘full-fat’ offering.
  3. I will only use proprietary services and platforms without a paid-for option if not doing so would have a significant effect on my ability to connect with other people.

What’s in and what’s out? I’ll stick with Twitter and Google+ (but will try to connect with people I follow in additional ways). Evernote, Spotify, Skype and Dropbox are fine for the time being (I pay for them). I’ll try and move away from GMail and Google Calendar.

Any suggestions for replacements?

 

Why we need open, distributed social networks.

Private land

An article by Michael Erard has been doing the rounds recently. Entitled What I Didn’t Write About When I Wrote About Quitting Facebook, it simultaneously pokes fun at the growing genre of ‘social media exile essay’ whilst raising an interesting issue about the ways in which social networks mediate relationships. Erard concludes (my emphasis):

In the standard Social Media Exile essay, one doesn’t mention or announce when one returns to blogging or Twitter. For each platform or network one leaves, there’s another one to return to. Sometimes they’re the same. So I’m going to close this piece by breaking that convention and mentioning how easy it turns out to be to reactivate Facebook. When you sign back in, all your stuff is there, as if you’d never left. It’s like coming back to your country after a month in a foreign land, and it makes one feel that the whole reason for leaving is to make the place seem strange again. Being away from Facebook was certainly that. But I had to come back. That’s where all the people are. I’ve got a book coming out, and I need to let my friends know. Anyway, you know where to find me and what to talk about when you do. I’ll have some cookies baked.

Let’s cut to the chase: for better or worse, online, we currently act like brands. We can (and do) consider things like using a standardised avatar to increase recognition; we’re careful about what we say in certain kinds of company; we align ourselves with other brands (people, organizations, objects) to gain social capital. The trouble is that, in a similar way to a mall, we’re setting up shop on private property. We can be (and sometimes are) kicked out of spaces for violating lengthy, arcane user agreements written in legalese that few of us take the time to read. On various levels we control our digital identity, sometimes by self-censoring. This is problematic.

Some of us can play the game; Twitter and my online networks and reputation certainly helped me gain my last two jobs. But playing this game can be tiring. Each medium has its own vocabulary and syntax that one has to learn, as Erard demonstrates:

Instead of writing about any of this, once I was not on Facebook anymore, I found myself sending emails with some witty insights or photos of my baby, but it just wasn’t the same; a request for housing help for a friend via email got no responses.

Despite my impending Black Ops period, I’m actually not of the opinion that everything would just be alright if we all just got offline and talked to one another face-to-face. I remember reading recently that talking about the superficiality of social media is more than slightly disingenuous given the type of weather-related chat and insincere ‘how are you?’ questions that make up much of our offline interaction. There was no golden period of offline communication. Updating your Facebook status probably not  time you would have otherwise spent in deep philosophical face-to-face conversation with your next-door neighbour.

But, nevertheless, there is a problem with online communication. Superficial conversations are (usually) neither recorded nor commodified in the ways they can be online. Erard again:

I hadn’t written about feeling like Facebook was a job. Like I was running on a digital hamster wheel. But a wheel that someone else has rigged up. And a wheel that’s actually a turbine that’s generating electricity for somebody else. That’s how I felt, which is what I should have written.

What we’re doing, in effect, is akin to renting houses when we should be buying them. The tools that commercial operations such Facebook, Twitter and Google+ give us are ‘free’ so we often don’t think through the issues clearly. Like a low-income people forced into dealing with a disreputable car dealers, we’re forced into hire-purchase with no real prospect of ownership.

Let’s run a quick thought experiment. Imagine Facebook started charging and, instead of a mass exodus, people (for whatever reason) kept using it. What would change? I think, for one, we’d question where our data was going and we’d want to get rid of the advertising. It’s been repeated so many times that it’s almost become a cliché, but if we’re not paying for something then we’re not customers. And if we’re not customers, we bring something to the marketplace that’s being sold on our behalf. We’re being tracked, packaged-up and sold to the highest bidder.

All this sounds alarmist, and it is, but all I’m trying to do is lift the veil a little. Discontent leads to a search for alternatives, so I suppose I’m trying to stoke the fires of discontent. We’re all in the same position: we need open, distributed social networks to avoid the above. But we’re in a Catch-22: no-one wants to make the first move to Identi.ca or Diaspora because it’s not social until all your friends are there, right?

Image CC-BY-NC-SA [ jon ]

What do Google, Open Source Software and Digital Literacies have in Common?

Wordle of my Ed.D thesisMy second post for DMLCentral is now live. It won’t spoil the surprise to tell you that I think the thing Google, OSS and digital literacies have in common is openness. Read the post to see why.

(I’m at the mercy of DMLCentral’s editors who have added sub-titles, including one that states, ‘Openness is a literacy’. This was not my idea – I see openness as a ‘habit of mind’, NOT a ‘literacy’. I’m sure it will be corrected by the time you click on this link!)

Social Objects and the importance of sharing.

This is a scheduled post whilst I’m on holiday in the UAE – my apologies if I don’t respond to comments straight away!

Invest in sharing

“The most important word on the internet is not “Search”. The most important word on the internet is “Share”. Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA. We use Social Objects to share ourselves with other people. We’re primates. We like to groom each other. It’s in our nature.” (Hugh McLeod)

Sometimes you read things that coalesce previously disparate thoughts you’ve had and package them up in a way that is usable. It’s my hope to do that both here and at Synechism Ltd. (indeed, you can hire me to help you do so with the latter). My favourite writers are those that help me find a lens on my Quinean ‘web of beliefs’ so that I understand both myself and the world I inhabit in ways that are useful.

Hugh McLeod, of gapingvoid cartoons-on-the-back-of-business-cards fame, has evolved from a cartoonist to an excellent writer in the mould of the above. In a recent post, entitled Social Objects are the future of marketing he explains what he means by the term ‘Social Object’ and how such items can connect people.

“Things change because of people interacting with other people, rather than technology or design really doing things to people.” (Mark Earls)

We’re all geeks, points out Hugh, as “we’re all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves” – and those things that make us excited “act as Social Objects within a social network of people who care passionately about the stuff.” He cites the Apple iPhone as an example, but points out that almost anything can serve as one.

What interests me is that Google seem to have recognised that search is almost like a utility: we expect it to be there and work properly. Search, in an of itself, is not very exciting. Where do we share the things we find interesting? Social networks! Is it any surprise, then, that Google+ has emerged? Google earns the majority of its money through advertising and social networking is where the advertising money’s going – just ask Facebook.

So if we want to gain traction with projects such as Purpos/ed* we’d do well to employ the following 5 Principles of Social Objects that Hugh has drawn up:

  1. You should be able to define the social object your service is built around.
  2. Define your verbs that your users perform on the objects.
  3. How can people share the objects?
  4. Turn invitations into gifts.
  5. Charge the publishers, not the spectators.

In a world of social networking, people have to have something to talk about to connect them. Stand out from the crowd and stop endlessly re-sharing and retweeting other people’s stuff. Create your own!

Image CC BY-NC Shira Golding

* We’re having a bit of a summer break with Purpos/ed – there’s a cadence to engagement that we want to respect.

What do new Social Networks tell us about Digital Literacies?

20110711-053222.jpg

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started to blog occasionally for DMLcentral. My first post has now been published and is available here. 🙂

Why Google+ is like an extended unboxing video.

N.B. I wrote this last night just before Google opened things out via the ability to invite others. I’m posting it as a historical record of my thinking.

Unboxing

I’ve never understood unboxing videos, those rambling, self-glorifying, badly-shot YouTube shorts that literally show somebody taking a gadget out of its box. Whilst I understand the excitement of getting a new piece of tech, I’ve never felt the need to share the unboxing of it with others. Nor, surprisingly, have I been overcome with a desire to watch others do something similar.

Part of the appeal of the unboxing video, presumably, is a glimpse of the previously-unobtainable. For the person doing the unboxing, they get to show the world how lucky they are; the person watching the video gets a caffeine-like hit of anticipation that someday (soon?) they may also be able to get their hands on the shiny-shiny.

In many ways Google+ is like one big and seemingly-neverending unboxing video. There’s the haves frolicking within the magical and enchanted walls whilst the the have-nots try everything they can (purchasing invites on eBay, cajoling friends, begging Google) to get over, under or through to get in. Those enjoying the merry wonderland occasionally post enticing screenshots to the have-nots in spaces that were previously sufficient for social interaction. And just to rub their faces in it, they throw in the occasional link that those without Google+ passes won’t be able to access (“Oh, sorry about that!”)

I’ve been within the walls for a week now. As I explained over at Synechism Ltd. yesterday Google+ is almost there in terms of usefulness. But I’ll stop here before I become one of those annoying people who are equivocal about a space not everyone can access. It’s never about the technology, it’s always about how it’s used – and that’s why we need to get more people in there to start building the same habits, customs and practices we’ve developed together to make Twitter such a useful social tool.

Image CC BY-NC-SA dansays

Edtech companies: inspiring or conspiring?

As I attend an increasing number of conferences, I’m becoming more and more aware of differences in approach taken by educational technology-related companies. Broadly-speaking, they can be represented on a continuum from ‘conspiring’ to ‘inspiring’ (place each on the left or the right depending on your political preferences).

To my mind, there’s three ways in which an edtech company can be inspiring:

  1. Develop a product or way of learning that changes the parameters of the debate
  2. Model effective practices with a demonstrable commitment to pedagogy
  3. Solve a genuine learning problem

The first type can usually only be done by someone as large as Google, someone with the money, time and resources to either invent or mainstream something that changes conversations about learning and teaching.

I’ve already written about how I believe BrainPOP! to be an example of the second type; their product, whilst great, isn’t as important as their approach to how they do business.

The third type, solving a genuine learning problem (not a pseudo-problem or manufactured crisis) is important. Let me attempt to explain the subtle difference between conspiring and inspiring:

  • If you’re providing a way to make examinations faster and cheaper without adding any value to the process, then you’re conspiring.
  • If your business model is predicated upon an ‘average teacher’ or lecturer who is hostile to technology, then you’re conspiring.
  • If you uncritically apply the latest fad, buzzword or way of describing your product to what you’re offering, then you’re conspiring.

Involving yourself and your company in the above means conspiring to rob students of authentic and valuable educational experiences. You’re conspiring, at the end of the day, to enrich yourself and your colleagues at the expense of learners.

How, then, can edtech companies, inspire?

  • By making more intuitive something (educationally-valuable) that was previously difficult, awkward or tricky.
  • By helping engage learners through pedagogically-sound processes and not just shiny toys and impressive graphics.
  • By treating teachers as professionals who care about educational experiences without castigating them for not necessarily jumping on the latest bandwagon.

The Inspiring/Conspiring continuum, then, is my new method of judging edtech companies. I’ve seen some of both at the conference I’m currently attending, and I’ll be avoiding BETT 2011 (based on past experience) due to too much of a focus at the wrong end of the continuum.

As I explained to Gavin Cooney, CEO of Learnosity, after BETT 2008 I was fairly convinced that their offering, a method of recording students for language learning, was in the ‘conspiring’ camp. I couldn’t see how they were adding value. Now that I’ve actually seen what they do, I’m more convinced to place them in the other camp. It can be subtle, as it’s often one of emphasis, but anything that allows learners of a compulsory foreign language to enjoy what they’re doing, pseudocontext to be avoided through real-world learning, and teachers to have access to intuitive technology, is OK by me. 🙂

Google Earth for #GTAUK

I’m at Google Teacher Academy today as one of the Lead Learners. The words ‘wow’ and ‘awesome’ are pretty much all I can muster at the moment. My brain is being fried!

I’m leading the Google Earth session. 🙂

Google Wave: now with added usefulness.

Background

Remember the hype just before and during the launch of Google Wave on 30 September 2009? It was going to be revolutionary, change the way we work forever, and oh! to have an invite…

And then reality hit home. What can you actually do with it?

It was all a bit… meh. 🙁

Growing maturity

Google certainly does love the ‘release early, release often’ mantra. That means, of course, that its offerings tend to get better as time goes on. And this is certainly true of Google Wave.

As you can see from the screenshot above, when you go to create a new wave you are given 6 templates from which to choose. Below is the ‘Task tracking’ option:

When you throw the extensions into the mix, you’ve got a very powerful collaborative tool. The iFrame gadget, in particular, is an extremely valuable option. I can imagine, for example, distributed teams using Google Wave for meetings. They’d use the meeting or brainstorm template, add the ‘Yes/No/Maybe’ gadget and the ‘Map’ gadget to organise a face-to-face meetup. There’s also several gadgets to turn Google Wave into the liveblogging app to end all liveblogging apps:

I’m going to be recommending Google Wave for meetings, project management and more over the next few weeks/months – both at work and for ‘extra-curricular’ activities. I’ll also be purchasing The Complete Guide to Google Wave by Gina Trapani’s, of Lifehacker fame. The book’s also freely available to read online – probably for a limited period only. 😀

Are YOU using Google Wave? What for?

HOWTO: Set up Google Scholar to do the heavy lifting for you.

I have unlimited love for Google Scholar, I really do. It’s the one tool that I really wouldn’t be without for academic purposes these days; I really wish it had been around when I was doing my BA in Philosophy and MA in Modern History. Still, I’m not grumbling – it’s around for my Ed.D. research! 🙂

There’s two really powerful things you can do with Google Scholar. The first, which I’ve mentioned to many people many times before, is click on the ‘Cited by…’ link underneath search results. This helps you find seminal papers fast.

The second is the subject of this post – integrating your access to electronic journals with Google Scholar. I’m fortunate in having two methods now – through Durham University because of my Ed.D. research and now through Northumbria University, hosts of JISC infoNet (for whom I now work).

(click on images to enlarge!)

Step 1

Go to Google Scholar and click on ‘Advanced Settings’

Google Scholar howto 01

Step 2

Enter the name of your university/institution in the ‘Library Links’ box and click the button ‘Find Library’.

Google Scholar howto 02

Step 3

When Google Scholar comes up with some suggestions, click the ones that are appropriate. Then click the ‘Save Preferences’ button.

Google Scholar howto 03

Step 4

Search using Google Scholar as usual. Links to PDFs, etc. will appear to the right. Click on them and then login using your university/institution password. You will be directed straight to the PDF without having to login to various repositories.

Google Scholar howto 04

Step 5

Use Google Chrome and the Docs PDF/Powerpoint Viewer extension for quick and easy access! 😀

Google Scholar howto 05

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