First Impressions of Google+

When Google releases a new service, they usually do a decent to excellent job on the design and interface. You can rarely fault them on their ideas. Even if a particular idea isn’t your cup of tea, you can at least see where others might like it.

But having said all that, it is still getting harder and harder to get excited about new Google services.

Its not that they are boring or pointless. It really just has to do with not wanting to invest in a new tool to only have it canceled in less than a few years.  Many people point to the untimely death of Google Wave as the main cause for their lukewarm response to Google+, but those of us that have been following Google for a while know that there were many other disappointing closures before Wave.

But if it can make it, Google Plus has some great ideas that could be very useful in Education. Or at least I think. Very few of my friends are on it yet, despite me sending out invitations… so it is hard to get a good feel for truly how well it works. But here are some initial thoughts:

  • As many have said, the ability to only share certain information with certain groups of friends is a great idea. It was a great idea when ELGG and Facebook first came up with it, of course – but Facebook kind of never really bought into the idea once they added it (and the average online user has never heard of ELGG). After all, they were trying to monetize your connections, so why make it easy to reduce the number of connections and interactions you can make?
  • The killer app to many people seems to be the free group video chat. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet because of my limited circle of friends that are in Google Plus, but the early feedback sounds positive. But I know that this is a feature and price point that many educators have been looking for.
  • Am I supposed to say G+, Google+, or Google Plus? What is the official spelling?
  • Programmers are already writing browser plug-ins. Sure, Facebook has apps, but not until years after FB was created, and none of them seem to be able to change the core functionality of how Facebook looks and operates.  Maybe there are some out there and I don’t know it. The Facebook + Google Plus integration was pretty nice, even if it was a little basic (there were concerns over it being malware, so I uninstalled it). It added a button on your G+ page that let you open your Facebook stream right there in G+.
  • The true measure of whether G+ will be successful or not depends on how well the people in charge understand networks. George Siemens wrote a recent post examining the importance of this.  Siemens also comes to the conclusion that Google just doesn’t get it. That may be so, but I would also say it may be too early to really tell. The user base for Facebook is so huge while the base for G+ is incredibly small. Facebook will probably seem to work better just due to its size, while G+ may appear to fall short due to how new it is.  I think it also depends on what you look at. Siemens looks at Facebook friends suggestions, something I usually ignore completely. Unlike Siemens, over half of the friend suggestions I get on Facebook are the “way out there” kind.  So I have to admit that I have been ignoring that feature in G+ because I also ignore it in Facebook. Besides – I don’t need and algorithm figuring out for me who I need to connect with. I prefer to do some research on my own and find my own connections. Maybe Siemens is right about Google recommending only “power users” to him, or maybe he doesn’t realize that he probably qualifies as a power user himself (much more than myself or most people I know) and the possibility is that since Google sees him in the same category as these people that it is also recommending them to him. So, ultimately, the success of G+ will probably be more in the eye of the user, based primarily on how well they do the specific things each user is interested in.
  • It is probably a given that most Google services will integrate with G+ at some point, but how long will it take for the ones that haven’t already been connected? I can’t seem to find a way to share anything from Google Reader with my circles – other than the old school way of copying and pasting a link. But I could already do that in Facebook. In order for me to switch from Facebook, I am going to need to see integration with the things I already use.
  • Google also says that Plus pages for companies (like Facebook fan pages) are coming. In reality, they are already there in the form of Google Sites, Google Groups, and even Blogspot. Once all of that is brought together into a page for companies or classes or whatever in Google Plus, that will be pretty cool. Cooler even than Facebook Fan Pages… if there are enough users on G+ to take advantage of it.
  • I like the idea of Sparks, but I am wondering how to make them more useful. For instance, I like music. But not all music. But there are a large number of bands I follow. Do I have to start a hundred Sparks to follow them all? Sounds daunting. OR will it be possible to start a Spark on a broader topic and then go in and specify what parts of the broader topic you want to see?

Overall, an interesting new product that could go many different ways. Something for everyone to keep their eyes on.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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