I have been using a number of new tools the in the last few months, but the one I am most excited about is google+ . I hope it will become a valuable tool for online teaching. Here is what it look likes:
This unclutterd look is what one expects from Google. When they introduced the Google Wave (see Dec 10 blog) -it crashed because it was even more cluttered then facebook. Goolge+ is social networking with a clean, clear and intuitive appearance that is consistent with the way Google Search first appeared. Dropping people in circles was straightforward and the representation was pleasing as the faces fell into a circle formation.
With Google+, I could understand the site within a very short time. The markers for what is public and private made sense both in writing and reading messages in the stream. Messages can be sent to everyone or to one or more circles. They are marked as public or limited, and if limited, a click on "limited" shows who, exactly, the message was shared with. Messages format themselves with pictures, videos, links and location easily inserted. (Despite years of facebooking, I still couldn't tell you who sees what and which things are found on my profile, home, walls or messages. The metaphors don't work for me.)
The four icons at the top of the site (house, picture, person and circles) are easy to decifer into home, photos, profile and circles. When I selected the photos, I found my picasso albums had migrated to google+ without any effort on my part. While the social networking is not all that different from Facebook, it feels clean and sleek--no ads, no things blinking and or screaming for attention. My circles are clear, and I can tell who sees the messages. If I click on a name, the number of circles I have place them in show up so I know where they are in my social network.
GROUP VIDEO CONFERENCING -- for free!
What makes Google+ unique in the crowded social networking field is the hangout feature. You can video conference with up to nine people. That will make my teaching much easier-- but only for the small group meetings. Our hangout test seemed to work well although I have only had this one session--(connecting from Taiwan while I was travelin)g. I am looking forward to using this feature for learning circles meetings in my online classes.
If you are not overwhelmed by reading things from people you know, you can use "sparks" to connect to whatever people out there are talking about. If you type "newsweek," you well get more than you might want to read about the current cover pictures of Bachmann. Or "stock market" will give you everyone's thinking about why the market is jumping up and down.
One thing I like is that it is easy to open Google+. +Margaret sites on the top left of my gmail. So I am more likely to shift over without waiting for that email message from facebook or linked that reminds me that the social world is steaming by without me. I think that google+ might slowly pull people away from the more chaotic, ad covered, facebook world (well maybe only people like me...my kids are not bothered by clutter). And maybe with circles, it will be easier to manage the spheres of contacts. However, I have to feel sympathetic with those who ask-- who needs another way to connect to friends... I am personally overwhelmed by email alone and I find myself longing for a less connected space and time.
Google reported 10 million users signed up in the first two weeks in July. I am not sure how many there now. And I was hard to sign up as you had to be invited. I guess that is part of creating the buzz. Everyone wanted to be invited.