Google Misses the Boat Again (Yet Another Google Reader Rant)

So a large number of people are not happy that Google Reader is getting killed. Because, let’s face it – its not like it was really dying if 500,000 users have already moved to Feedly alone. So this is not Google putting an old service that few care about on the shelf. It is a good service being cut down in its prime because…. well, I have never been able to figure out Google’s reasons for killing anything. But I am guessing that money has something to do with it.

But I guess the big question I have is: why kill something with millions of users and force them to go somewhere else for their service? Why not integrate Reader into Google+? I rarely use Google+, but to be honest I might give it another try if it had better content.

Yes, I know that you can share articles with other users in Google Reader – so why does it need a social network attached? Because so many people don’t use those sharing features. But they will post articles they read on Facebook all the time (and you can see in the link that they originally read it on Google Reader). So the question for Google: why not integrate Reader into your ghost town of a social network and inject some life into it? I would personally like to read my RSS feeds in an integrated social network stream.

Even better for educators, you could use Circles to share articles of interest with only your students. Which you already can, of course – but it would be so much simpler if you are reading and sharing those articles all from the same service.

But you could probably also say the same about many of the other dead or dying Google services. Makes you not want to sign up for anything they do – why get attached to a service that will be gone in a year?

The Battle For Openness In The LMS Market

Last year it seemed like every new LMS company was trying to position itself as the “Facebook” of online learning. Then Facebook started to make everyone angry (or bored, or both), and we saw that idea dry up pretty quick (well, for the most part). The new catch phrase battle seems to be heating up over the words “open” and “free.” Both Pearson and Blackboard are racing to establish either part or all of their services as open and/or free.

Many people have examined the concepts of open and free to see where various companies stack up. But of course, a lot of this is hard since few people have been inside of Pearson’s OpenClass.

Pearson is lifting the veil a bit more by releasing some screen shots of their OpenClass platform (although, anyone that has been reading this site for a while or attended one of my presentations with Harriet knows that mock-ups and screen shots of ideas are pretty easy to come by). The OpenClass screen shots look nice and they look like they integrate with Google well. But to be honest, anyone that wants notifications of new Gmail messages or Google docs can just as easily install any one of a large number of extensions for Chrome or Firefox or any number of browsers. Google docs are pretty easy to embed or add users to, so I know there will be a long line of people pointing out that you can already do what these screen shots show with just a few extra steps. Busy instructors will love this, of course, because saving steps and integrating products easily is always a welcome move in their world.

What we have shaping up here is basically a “Googlized” Blackboard with probably a healthy portion of Apple-esque eas-ability of use thrown in. That is not necessarily bad – these are all welcome steps forward for the LMS.

But it still only really brings us into the 1990s. What about those instructors that don’t want to use Google services? What about those courses that use specific web tools for specific reasons based on the specifics of the field they are in?  How hard will it be to plug in embed codes or APIs from non-Google services?

It might end up being very easy. But this is still not the open I am looking for. This is also not what I would consider the iPhone moment that the LMS market needs. Whether you build a system around Blackboard’s core code or around Google, you are still building it around a specific system and you will only be able to let in what that system lets in.

The whole point behind the “New Vision LMS” was that it needs to be built from the ground up to be open to any system that you could want to plug into it. The subway terminal concept could basically be that iPhone moment, if it is designed well. It would also be the true “openness” that I am looking for.

For different reasons, many of the usual uses for the term “open” are not exactly what I am looking for when I want open. They are all great, but I still think there is more. These uses include:

  • Open as in open source code. I’m a big supporter of open-source software. But you can still install open-source programs like Moodle and then clamp them down so tight that they don’t feel open to the users.
  • Exportable content. You can make your LMS software open by making it easy to export classes to course cartridges and other common formats. If you design your course well from the beginning it wouldn’t be that hard to re-design it in another LMS. So easy export is nice, but not that big of deal in my experience (and this is coming from some one who has had to migrate hundreds of courses from at least four different LMS systems through the years – open export formats are nice, but not  a necessity). If you place all of your content on sites like WordPress and then link to them, exporting isn’t that hard.
  • Free to Access Outside the LMS. Blackboard’s recent announcement that you will be able to make courses “open” is nice, but you still have to use the Blackboard system to design those courses. Some instructors want their content out there and free for anyone to be able to see. And there are still ways to do that inside of Blackboard and other LMS systems. In fact, I teach a course that technically works like that.

All of these are great, but to some degree we already have all of these somewhere. To me, a truly open system is one that lets you use any tool you want, and then that will be imported into the system and organized so that learners can follow each other easily. Which also means that this organized activity will be exported out in any way that students want so they can follow course activity using any tool they wish.

And of course, this system would need to scale easily from small courses of specialized learners to massive open courses.

In other words, we still need that tool that can organize Personal Learning Networks to allow learners to focus in on specific classes or assignments when they need to. But also a tool that easily integrates with other school systems (like enrollment, emergency notifications, grade tracking, etc).

That is the kind of iPhone moment I am looking for. Of course, the iPhone isn’t really what anyone would call open… so the metaphor breaks down if you look at it too closely. But I think you know what I am getting at.

Google, Pearson, and Misunderstandings of Moodle

The recent announcement of the partnership between Pearson and Google is certainly an interesting one. Many people have been calling for Google to get into the LMS business for years and years (although, I believe most were hoping that Google would actually design one and not just add someone else’s ideas to their Apps for Education). New ideas are always good, but we’ll have to wait to see if this new partnership actually goes anywhere.  Google, unfortunately, has a track record of being involved in great projects that go nowhere.

I still haven’t gotten to look inside of OpenClass, but I hope it is cool as the slick video they made to promote it (even though the video really shows nothing more than a bunch of buzzwords). Funny that they think the LMS is dead… even though the numbers are showing that more and more courses are going into walled gardens every year. Love ’em or hate ’em, LMS’s aren’t going any where for a long time. They haven’t even started declining yet.

I don’t like it either, but I can’t deny reality. Not all the time, at least.

The interesting thing I keep seeing posted over and over again is how Moodle ends up being a drain on resources – you need more people to keep it running and upgraded and all that. To me, it is weird to claim this because all the IT people I have ever talked to about Moodle rave about how easy it is to keep going. At least when compared to other systems that track things like enrollment or issues like that. What I hear most often is that if you have a modern enough IT department, the people you already have in place will be able to easily keep Moodle running.

The problems tend to come when you have to modernize your systems. In other words, that 10 year old student enrollment system is not going to work with a modern LMS. So don’t try to pin the costs of modernizing your systems on Moodle.

I also find it interesting when people talk about having to fix your own bugs in Moodle. Unlike… what competing system? In Blackboard, we discover bugs every month, and then we can’t even fix them. At least in Moodle, you have the option of fixing them. In Blackboard, you send a ticket off into Bb Tech World and hope the fix shows up in the next release. Which is usually doesn’t. So how is the ability to fix your own bugs bad when compared to this?

No program of any kind is going to be perfect, but at least try to get those downsides right :)

So, the question is: will OpenClass be the iPhone moment for the PLN? Even if I end up hating it, I still hope it is. We need something big that takes us in another direction.

I actually have three sister-in-laws that work for Pearson, so I should see if they can get me an inside scoop. I doubt it – so much of this seems to be kept under wraps and I bet most employees were kept in the dark until right before the announcement. But I did sign up to be in the know when they open it up to the public – so hopefully that will happen soon.

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.

Google Pretty Much Decides to Take on Every Social Website at Once

News is starting to spread about the new Google+ Project.  While most people are comparing it to Facebook, I also look at it and see how it is taking on everything from Foursquare to you name the latest niche social network flavor site. It seems like they are going after it all: social networking, location services, conferencing, recommendations, etc.  But two important features will make it something to watch for educators: the focus on creating small groups to share with and a focus on privacy.

If you can create your own “Circles” as they call them, and then share what you want with them and even do video chats – you pretty much have the beginnings of a Learning Management System.  If they integrate Circles with other services (like Blogspot) – that would make it even more interesting. You could make a blog private and then with one click allow access to one circle (course).

Like Google Wave, invitations are limited (and will probably be highly sought after for a while). But will the failure of Google Wave make people too cautious to try this? And when was the last time Google had a big hit idea on their hands? Who will want to start using this and then have it canceled in a year or two?

Okay… I do want to give it a shot. And you probably do to. But Google Wave (and Lively and…) all showed us that major interest from the educational world is not enough to keep a Google project going. Which is one reason why I tend to doubt we will ever see a Google LMS.

Google Takes Aim

I recently noticed that I’m more and more frequently opting to use Google Docs rather than my locally installed software as I’m taking notes in focus groups sessions and create spreadsheet for a survey tool comparison project, and as a result I’m paying an increasing amount of attention to “New Features!” and Google Labs to see how my user experience has changed or will change very soon. In looking through the new features list yesterday, I noticed several items listed that strengthen my belief that Google is quietly taking aim and positioning itself to take over the educational web technologies market.

Is Google planning on creating its own Learning Management Systems? Old news! (See Matt’s post from earlier this year.) Over a year ago, the Wall Street Journal hypothesized on the Five Companies Google Might Buy Next, but as I look through new features and those that Google says are “keeping us busy”, I wonder if Google would even consider acquiring a company like Bb. Why would they? They already have (or are working on) manyof the pieces that come together to make an LMS, and with Google’s tendency to gobble up companies, they could easily acquire the missing pieces.

LMS features and how they relate to existing Google technologies



  • discussion boards/listservs (Groups)
  • email (Gmail)
  • IM/chat/audio conferencing (Talk)
  • annoucnements (Alerts)
  • web-based calling, voicemail (Voice)

Class Management

Recent tweeks Google is making that seem more “education-friendly”

  • Improved view of revision history in documents (gradable collaborative documents)
  • Upload several different file types and either convert to google docs format or view in google docs viewer (universal file type – instructor can view document submission whether created in Word, Word Perfect, PDF, Google Docs, etc.)
  • Upload different versions of a file (assignment submissions, including rough drafts)

Google Labs, acquisitions, “keeping us busy” items and New Features! and how they could eventually effect education

Future Google Conquests Predictions

  • Prezi (mind-mapping)
  • TechSmith (testing) – however…
    Google could create a secure testing browser by modifying Chrome
    Google already is working on Breadcrumb, which could eventually become an alternative to StudyMate
  • Epsilen (learning outcomes measurement and portfolios)
  • Survey Monkey (advanced survey functionality)

Future Educational Google Site Name Predicitons

  • Google Edu – Google’s LMS, including all of the above
  • Google Meeting – Google’s web conferencing system that combines Talk (chat, private messaging, audio conferencing) with Docs (live document sharing/collaborating, collaborative drawing and whiteboard, file sharing) and Moderator (event moderating)

It’s only a matter of time.

Star Trek Forgot To Mention That The Holodeck Was Invented By Google

Okay, so I know that there have been many people working on holodeck-like inventions for quite a while.  But none have been quite as cool as Google’s Liquid Galaxies, and I don’t remember hearing about any of the previous attempts being released as open-source.  Yes – Google released their immersive environment tool as open source.  You can read more about it here:

Of course, it is the design and software that is open-source, not the actual hardware itself.  But it is an interesting start, nonetheless.  Two things in the article gave me some ideas:

  • You can hook up any where from two to “dozens” of screens potentially.
  • You can add other virtual interfaces to the set-up. In other words, it is not just limited to Google Earth.

I wonder how long it will be before someone figures out a way to use Second Life with this?  Anyways, here is my idea: First of all, you get a few dozen flat screen panels with little or not frame (kind of like they do in Sports Bars with nine screens showing four games) and put them together in a sphere shape with the screens facing inward.  Probably with a few in the back on a hinge acting as a door in.  Then you get an omnidirectional treadmill for a floor hooked up to the software in place of a joystick.  Finally, add a few motion detection cameras at key points around the sphere and a wireless microphone.  Maybe even add a glove interface of some kind for more detailed controls.  Wire all of this to work together with virtual environment of your choice (Google Earth, Second Life, World of Warcraft, you name it) – and I think we have our first rudimentary holodeck.  Maybe even someday use 3-D flat screens.

Probably pretty expensive to buy all this.  Probably also a little tough to figure out how to get all those systems to work together.  But I am sure it can be done.  So who has a grant to try this out?

Is Google Getting In To the LMS Business?

The new Google CloudCourse project hasn’t gotten that much chatter online.  At first glance around the project page, you can easily see why.  There are only a handful of functions that basically just do what Google employees have found helpful around the office (because apparently the whole thing started as an internal project).  This basically spells “yawn” for most educators. CloudCourse does have a few things going for it:

  • Open-source: we may see more interesting functions arising… if the right people get involved.
  • Part of the Google family: we might see connections to Google Docs, Wave, etc.
  • It already connects to Google Calendars.

Right now, it really is a management system and not much more.  Add in a grade book and the ability to embed or import content from other sites and you pretty much have all you need for an Open Learning Environment.  Connect it with a Google Reader-like system for aggregating tags and RSS feeds, and you have the New Vision ideas we have been kicking around here at EGJ.  Sounds like just a few easy steps, but that will only happen if we have educators jump into the development of the project to wrestle it away from the business training mindsets that seem to rule it now.

Which could also pretty much describe other large LMS programs that shall remain nameless….

Will iPad be a Game Changer or the Next Newton?

Much has been written about the new Apple  iPad recently. I wanted to avoid getting in to the discussion until I actually got to try one out, but realized I was spending too much time tweeting and commenting other places about it. So here is my take on the worst-named device in the history of Apple products:

  • The biggest reason not to buy one: no Flash support. I’m no Flash lover, but how on Earth can you expect to surf the web without it? Even if Flash dies, it will be years before you can get around without it. Can someone please tell Steve Jobs to get over himself?  His anti-Flash rants are just sounding silly.
  • Multi-tasking is pointless on an iPhone (or any smart phone).  I mean really – why would you want to do multiple things on a tiny screen? So what that you can’t listen to Pandora and write an email. Just turn on iTunes (you’ll get a better song selection, anyways). But on the iPad – kind of impossible to think of really using something that large without it. Another big gaping feature hole. Right next to where the camera should be.
  • For that matter, why not just go with a regular OS instead of iPhone OS?  Well, one reason really – $$$$$. Can’t make money in an app store if people are free to install whatever program they want.
  • Everyone keeps asking why get an iPad instead of a full featured laptop. My question with full featured laptops has always been “why do I have to buy all of these features I don’t use?”  Full featured laptops are usually overkill. And bulky at that. Get me the features I need in an easy to use interface like the iPad has, and you have a winner there. I can see the iPad becoming a laptop replacement for people that don’t want everything and the kitchen sink.

Will I get one? Probably not. I will probably wait for the Google Chrome OS to come out in a multi-touch pad device. The combination of an iPad experience with the openness of a fuller OS sounds killer to me. Not to mention cheaper.

So, a note to all educators pondering Kindles, Nooks, or even iPads for their schools/classes/etc: wait for the followers to come out with better ideas. Just because they haven’t been able to do that with iPhone doesn’t mean they won’t succeed here.

Google Wave and The Elephant in the Room

I admit: I have grown bored with Google Wave. Oh, I still think it could have potential. My boredom stems not from how it works, but rather from who is not on there. Namely, pretty much anyone that I interact with on a daily basis.

Oh, I sent out invites to some friends and several colleagues, but most of them never got an invite.  The few that did are the ones that are too busy to really kick the tires around. So it pretty much sits in my Google account, lonely and unused.

What worries me is the relative silence coming from Google about Wave.  Anybody remember Lively? Google released it with as much fanfare as Wave a few years ago. People were pretty excited about Lively. Many articles were written on how it was the future of educational virtual worlds.  Then came an uncomfortable, prolonged silence from Google.  And finally, out of no where… Google pulled the plug.

Let’s face it, Google Google has no problems hyping their priorities.  Why the silence about Wave? Every other educational article seems to be about Wave, but Google seems to be mum.  The momentum is starting to die for Wave. Google needs to build some fresh momentum soon….