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.

Response to Yahoo’s plans to shut down delicious

Warning: This is an emotional response to yesterday’s announcement by Yahoo! that they are shutting down the popular, absolutely essential, epitome of web 2.0 tool delicious.

What the hell?! First Facebook and now Yahoo! have screwed me (us) over. Two really simple, very functional, extremely valuable web2.0 tools that I’ve been preaching and pushing all year b/c they are/were incredibly useful — delicious and — and the parent companies pulled/are about to pull the plug.

  • October brought us the announcement that Facebook bought and that free accounts were to quickly disappear and paid accounts discontinued Dec.15.
  • Yesterday brought us even more shocking news that Yahoo has decided to sunset their very popular social tagging tool delicious.

Damn them.

Now what do I tell faculty? What are you going to tell your faculty? How are you going to sell them on some really amazing online tool that does something incredibly useful for their class and yet runs the serious risk of being acquired by [huge company name here] and very quickly wiped out?

Yes! I’ve found this great tool that helps you meet that learning objective, keeps your students engaged, encourages active learning … but just an fyi — don’t get too dependent on it, b/c it’s very possible someday you’ll suddenly have to export everything, find a new tool, and figure out how to migrate from one to another.

[Update: Now Yahoo! Says Delicious Will Live On … Somewhere Else]

Is Facebook Killing the Internet?

As a disclaimer, I use Facebook. I don’t hate it in any way. But all of the problem FB is having over privacy make me ponder where the Internet is heading. The more I think about it, the more I am concerned that Facebook might be making the web less social.

When we started this site, the goal was to keep an eye on emerging stuff that could be used in education.  In recent years, there have been very few new sites to rave about, and thus many contributors have run out of ideas for posts.  Now it is just me (although I am open to others joining me if they wish). And I am running out of new sites and ideas to post about.

The problem is that everyone is trying to be the next Facebook.  You used to have all of these sites trying new ideas and angles on many things, and then Facebook took off so fact that everyone just decided they wanted to be the next Facebook.  And I don’t mean the next interactive social site that brings people together in a new way… I mean the next Facebook clone.

So, in many ways, Facebook seems to have killed innovation online.  Of course, that happens in most industries – people see one company make it big, so they decide to follow blindly.

But this whole privacy thing is another issue.  People are really up in arms about it, and I can’t say I blame them.  At one time we were all looking for the next site to integrate Facebook so we could share music likes, restaurant discoveries, new yoga poses, whatever.  Then everyone realized that Facebook had quietly turned in to a big corporation over night and they were using all of this stuff we were sharing to make money off of us.

Educators are starting to notice this also, and wondering if they are crossing ethical lines by attaching student information to advertising dollars.

Less than a year ago, I thought the people leaving Facebook were just alarmists who probably also stocked up for Y2K.  Now I am seriously considering joining their ranks.  Without the impenetrable underground bunker, of course.

What if people stop sharing stuff online because they are tired of being exploited by big business?  That would pretty much kill Web 2.0, open education, Open Learning Networks, Personal learning Networks… you name it.  I have already noticed a slight decline in the amount of info I can glean from my PLN.  Is that a slight temporary dip, or a sign of what is to come?

Or, could this be a chance for something better to come about? Maybe less centralized social networks, more personalized, more secure?  Take note of these New York University students that are creating a new social network with a focus on privacy.  Interesting development…

Is FaceBook the Best Online Implementation of Educational Theory We Have So Far?

I have talked to many people that have taken a class online entirely through FaceBook. I can honestly say that none of them liked it.  They found it really hard to go back and read things they missed, or to keep track of what was said in the class group. FaceBook groups and pages are good ideas that are poorly implemented in the overall program, so I can see their points. But I think the core of FaceBook’s success rests squarely on good, old-fashioned educational theory… and most educational software companies are missing that and still missing the boat on how to really engage learners online.

Whether you follow Dewey or social constructivism or connetivism, the main thread to most educational theories is that we learn best when we are sharing what we have learned with others (or when we are teaching others, or making social connections, or whatever your particular slant is… they all say the same basic thing).  We also know that we humans are curious creatures at our core that like to learn.

What if FaceBook (and Twitter and blogging for that matter) is not about narcissism…. but about us sharing what we have learned? What if the whole genre of “Web 2.0” is really just the best implementation of educational theory that we have observed so far (and is popular not because it is cool, but because it is helping us to learn)?

“Okay,” you might be saying “I see how sharing links to current events and fighting for our political beliefs might be learning… but what about all of those posts that are just about our lunch? How is that learning? That has got to be pure narcissism, right?”

Don’t we need to learn as much about ourselves as we can? How can we understand the world around us, if we can’t even figure out ourselves? What if all of those so-called narcissistic status updates and tweets and blog posts are just us learning about ourselves…. in the best way possible, by sharing what we have learned with others?

The more I think about it, the more I think that is mostly what it is. As many times I have read someone’s update about brushing their teeth, I have also seen the profound update where that same person has made a major self-discovery. And this profound experience helps me learn about myself… making all of the mundane updates that I read worth it.

To be sure, FaceBook is really just a mirror that reflects more of our true personality than we would like… the part that we hide behind masks when we are in face-to-face communication.  So, if you are a very narcissistic person, then your status updates will be narcissistic in nature. But if you are a learner at heart (as I believe most people are), then FaceBook is just reflection of your desire to learn – both about the world around you and yourself. And about how to brush your teeth. Learning is not always pretty :)

Of course, FaceBook is missing some keys administrative details that make it difficult for the focused learning that needs to happen in a true class setting. If only ed tech companies would catch on to this and take their tools in a different direction, I think we could have some truly great tools created.

That is exactly what Harriet and I are trying to do with the “New Vision for the LMS” series that we are pushing for. Hopefully, there will be more on this in the new year. For now, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

No Matter How Much You Hate FaceBook, You Shouldn’t Make Up Stories About Its Death

Like many people, I read the New York Times story about the FaceBook Exodus last week.  I then laughed at how silly it was and moved on.  But then I started seeing this article linked to every where… from many people thinking it actually had a point.   It kind of shocked me how few people could see through bad journalism.

So, for a little reality break here… a little shocker for people out there.  Are you ready for this one?  People have been leaving FaceBook since the day after it started.  No… really.  Same is true for AOL, MySpace, Google, Twitter…. you name it.  People try a site, don’t like, don’t get it, or whatever… and so they leave.

Fast forward a few years to a time when FaceBook has seen amazing growth.  Record numbers of people are trying it out.  Guess what that also means.  Yep – that also means a greater number of people are leaving it.  Simple math, really: as the number of people trying a site out increases, so would the number of people quitting.  Amazing!

Of course, take an obvious fact and construct enough smokescreens around it… and people will think you have an actual story!  Sad, but true.

What FaceBook really does (and Twitter for that matter) is expose the misanthropic nature of many people.  Take some of the more prominent gripes about FaceBook:

  • I don’t care what you had for dinner!
  • Why would I want to play all these silly trivia games?
  • I don’t care what Goonies character you would have been! (or insert whatever other current quiz is going around).
  • Why would I want to join some cause I have never heard of?

Basically, it is just a bunch of people saying that they just don’t care about other people.   The last time I ran into a friend in a store, they told me many random trivia thing… including what they were having for dinner.  That is what people naturally do. I also get together with friends and show them pictures, and play board games that basically amount to nothing but trivia.  Pretty much everything I could ever do on FaceBook, I also do in real life in some form or fashion.

These anti-FaceBook statements show how sadly misanthropic we have become as a society. You had better share a funny, witty, life changing story every time you open your mouth, or it is a waste of my time. I remember as a kid how we would sit around on chairs outside and talk about dinner and movies and politics and a hundred other simple and complex topics… because we actually liked the people we called friends. Now people delete you from their friend list on whatever site just because you didn’t change the world with every post.

What ever happened to caring about the little things in the lives of people that we call friends or family?  You don’t have to like FaceBook, or Twitter, or Google or whatever if you don’t want to… but can we all stop trying to place guilt trips on the people that do like the things we don’t?

(unless, of course, you want to put guilt trips on people that like Blackboard.  That is totally understandable :)

EDIT: Yes, I know that just like any other site (AOL, MySpace, etc) – FaceBook will someday start to die off and be replaced by something else.  Let’s just wait until we have an actual study or data to back up that event, rather than just a bunch of “my buddy so-and-so left, and so did some others.. so it must be true!”

Did We All Miss The Arrival of Web 3.0?

When I first started following the concept of Web 3.0, every article about the semantic web, or the merging of the current web with virtual worlds, or cloud computing mentioned that we were a few years away from those technologies “arriving.”  Well, it’s been a few years and we are still being told “a few more years.”  Web 3.0 is part of the way here, but mostly still down the road.

But what if Web 3.0 is already here?  Web 2.0 was just a cutesy term used to refer to a new way that users interacted with web sites.  It was nothing really new in all actuality – it was just that our expectations as web surfers changed.  And maybe another shift has occurred, and we are already in Web 3.0 and haven’t noticed it.

Or maybe someone else has noticed it, and I just haven’t read their work.  Ever since Wikipedia unwisely decided to delete the Web3.0 page off of their site for stupid reasons, I haven’t found a better place to find a good over view of all the thinking on Web 3.0.

But let’s step back a second and look at the history of how the web developed from an end-user perspective:

In the beginning, there was nothingness in the digital universe.  Petty humans had to go get information, instead of having it delivered to them.  The Great Webmaster in the Sky said “let there be great silos of information that send all forms of information to people!” and it was so.  “These silos will be guarded by my prophets, the web designers. The designers will let people in to the silos, but not let these people change anything unless they join My secret html society.”  And there was much rejoicing – because let’s face it, who wanted to bother with html?

Before long, the prophets of the Great Webmaster were overwhelmed  by the demand for more and more silos.  The Great Webmaster saw that this was not good.  “I will make it so that everyone can create their own silo if they choose – or they can go in and add to the silos of others.  I shall create embed codes and RSS feeds and give all silos even greater powers to communicate.  I will call this glorious new vision ‘Web 2.0.'” And it was so.  And there was much rejoicing.

Then the Great Webmaster noticed that the silos were still silos.  People could communicate and add to each others silos, but they still mostly kept inside their own silo. The Great Webmaster decided that it was not good for all people to still be holed up in personal silos.  “Let there be large, open areas for people to socialize and interact without walls.  Let there be SuperPokes and Mafia wars.  In some areas, let the communication be limited to 140 characters, so the more verbose of my prophets will not continue to bore the rest of the world to sleep.” And it was so.  “I will not give this one a name, so that the fuddy-duddies that freaked out over ‘Web2.0′ won’t get their knickers in a wad and maybe we can all move forward.” And there was much rejoicing.

All kidding aside, I think that the differences between FaceBook and MySpace, or even between Twitter and Blogs may be signaling another shift in web expectations.  Let me explain.  MySpace is social, but it still does so from one silo to another – the focus is really on “your” MySpace page.   Sure, when you sign in, you see a control panel that gives you some interaction with friends, but the main focus was on setting up your area.  FaceBook is different – it turned that concept inside out.  When you sign in, the control panel is all you really care about.  Sure, people can see a wall and all that – but the focus is on the interactions.  Most people get by fine without ever even thinking about what their public page looks like.

With blogs, the focus is also on the blog itself.  Sure, you can go and comment on other blogs, but the focus is still on building your own personal silo of information.  You can go visit other silos, but you still get the sense of leaving your silo to go there.  Twitter also tears down those walls – all of your friends’ updates are sent to you, either online or on your mobile or where ever. In reality, most Web 2.0 sites are about direct communication (like Skype), or setting up your own personal mini-silo and then communicating between them.

So, where Web 1.0 was about building silos of information controlled by a select few, Web 2.0 was about giving people the ability to build their own silos and let friends or customers contribute to the content in those silos.  Maybe Web 3.0 is really about tearing down the silos and building communities?  Maybe we need that before we are really, truly ready for virtual worlds and cloud computing?

If Web 1.0 was the “read-only” web, and Web 2.0 was the “read-write” web – maybe Web 3.0 is really about the “socialize” web.  In many ways, one could argue that what I am saying about the “socialize” web is really just the full realization of Web 2.0.  Of course, that is what they also said about Web 2.0 (“it is really just the full realization of the Web itself”).

But, maybe this could also explain why sites like FaceBook and Twitter are taking off in popularity, and other sites like Ning and Yammer (that do the same basic things) are still not catching on as well.  Maybe it is just market saturation, or maybe there really is a shift away from Web 2.0 that we haven’t noticed yet.  Or maybe someone else has and I am just blabbering about something someone else already came up with.

Or maybe I have a short attention span and have grown bored of Web 2.0.  It had it’s five minutes – on to the next version!

Recent Problems With Facebook Highlight Misunderstandings of the Web

Educators are grappling with how to deal with some of the problems that arise when students and teachers use online social networks such as FaceBook. No one is going to get it perfect to start with. So, while we are shaking these tools out and trying to learn what is good and what is wrong, we should appeal for cool heads and open minds, not suspensions and lawsuits.

Sadly, cooler heads are not prevailing on either side. The New York Times profiled a case today of a high school student that was suspended for posting a rant on FaceBook against a teacher.

The problem really stems from the fact that this student encouraged other people to “express your feelings of hatred” in that post.  Luckily, some people did post comments that pointed out this student’s immaturity in the situation.  Others unwisely followed suit and posted hate messages.

Just so we are clear here… generally, in most civilized countries, it is not legal to encourage hate in any form.

The student is now suing the school to get the suspension off of her record so that it won’t hinder her later in life.  Maybe the punishment was too harsh, but on the other side – don’t post something if you aren’t willing to take the heat for it.  The posting and punishment are not that surprising to be honest – although, I wouldn’t have put it on her permanent record if it was her first offense.  To me, the really jaw-dropping part of this story are the responses from the lawyers and other people involved.

The lawyer representing the student compared this case to one in 1969 involving student protests against Vietnam.  Really?  Encouraging hatred is comparable to protesting Vietnam?  Those are not even close – there is a huge difference between wearing a sign of protest against the government (which is not likely to face direct retaliation as a result of said protest) and encouraging others to post messages that could be seen as threatening (especially when the teacher in question could face retaliation of some kind as a result of the posting).  To compare those two issues is shameful if you ask me.

Even more shocking are the comments from Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.  I’m no fan of the ACLU half of the time myself.  But I’m not even sure how supporters of the ACLU can agree with this statement:

“Since when did criticism of a teacher morph into assault?” Mr. Simon said. “If Katie Evans said what she said over burgers with her friends at the mall, there is no question it would be protected by free speech.”

What? Posting a comment on FaceBook is comparable to a discussion over burgers?  For one, once the conversation is over, it’s history.  People can’t come back later and read the comments hovering over the table the next day.  They can’t encourage others to add comments a week later.  And only the people that are the friends hanging out will hear the comments – not the extended community of FaceBook “friends” (which generally includes people that aren’t close friends).

By the way, Mr. Simon – this is not just a case of criticism.  It is a case of encouraging others to join in the hate.  Usually, the ACLU is against these kind of things… or so I thought.  My main problem with the ACLU stems from their inconsistent stance on some issues, especially where religion is involved.  But that is another issue.

People, especially in education, just don’t seem to understand that the Internet is not the same as having a conversation with friends.  It is a printed medium, one that has to follow the same rules that a news paper or book would.  You have to be careful what you print in any medium, no matter how temporary you think it is.

And for crying out loud – getting in trouble over something that you write or post is not an infringement of free speech.  It is a part of life.  Any blogger can tell you that :)  People need to understand that free speech has always had limits, and need to quit taking the cheap road by pulling out the First Amendment every time something like this happens.