Making the Most of Google+

This is a companion post to my talk with Google’s William Florance at the UCISA Using Social Media to Communicate workshop. We recorded the session, and you can watch it on YouTube via the embedded video below.

I’ve also made a copy of the slides available:

So, what’s the deal with Google+ ?

In a nutshell, Google+ is more than just a new social network. It’s an initiative that cuts across the entirety of the services Google provides, to take a holistic look at how things can work together better and to smooth out some of the bumps in the road that can interfere with communicating and collaborating online. [I could mention “friction” here, but I won’t give in to the temptation :-]

I’ve broken out a few of the practical examples from the talk in the screenshots below. For instance, here we are using our Google+ “Circles” to filter the messages displayed in our Gmail inbox:

At first glance this might seem a little alien, but in my experience it quickly starts to feel quite natural that facets of Google+ should surface elsewhere in Google’s services. Another Gmail example is being able to add a correspondent to one’s Circles without leaving Gmail:

The YouTube home screen has some nice integration now around the videos that your Google+ contacts have been sharing, and even gives you a button to start a Hangout (video conference) and watch a video together:

The hot topic right now of course is the integration of Google+ data into Google search results. For several months now there has been a fairly trivial integration that flags whether any of your Google+ contacts has shared or commented on a link, as with this example below:

The big new thing is “Search, plus Your World” which takes this approach to a whole new level – as introduced in the video below. Perhaps most significantly (and just as Google+ itself is an optional extra), you can simply switch off personalized search results by clicking on a prominent button.

In the talk I work through some specific examples of educational applications of Google+, but really the message is that this technology has potential wherever communication and collaboration are in the frame. The quality of the tools that Google are providing for free, particularly around video conferencing, is so good that I think a lot of institutions will find themselves questioning why they spend tens of thousands of pounds per annum on what are in many aspects inferior solutions. [In fairness, it has to be noted that Google+ is not yet part of the "core" Google Apps suite, which is covered by 24x7 telephone support and an SLA]

Now, one might say that with Facebook and Twitter (and perhaps LinkedIn) we already have quite enough social networking for one lifetime. This kind of misses the point in that Google+ is about the totality of Google’s products. As I mentioned in my recent blog posts about the transition to a "Post-PC" future, Google’s Android platform is now seeing some 700,000 activations per day. Each activation of the new Ice Cream Sandwich release of Android invites the user to join Google+. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see that the baked-in-ness of Google+ is going to result in it having a very large user base. Here’s a cheesy video that uses a robot with a jetpack to get the message across… !

In terms of institutional social media use I think this means that Google+ is going to become one of the key platforms, and perhaps rather more quickly than one might imagine. I would say that now is a good time for institutional web teams, learning technologists and IT staff to familiarize themselves with what Google+ has to offer, particularly if your institution is already a Google Apps user.

Finally, just to note that Google are keen to understand how people are using Google+, and how they think it could or should develop. If you have any feedback to add, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post, or add to this shared Google Doc. There are a few things that keep coming up, such as recording Hangouts and exposing Google Groups as “shared circles”, but this is a good opportunity for you to throw a curve ball (or bowl a Googly :-)

PS And while I'm here, a plug for the forthcoming UCISA Using Social Media for Training event where I will be picking up on many of the themes covered in this talk.

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