A Little Social

I noticed something a little different the other day as I was browsing my feeds in Google Reader — a new “X people liked this” icon and link.


The thing that is interesting is that the link then exposes you to the usernames of those who liked the post. It is easy to add yourself to the “I like” list too … just click the “Like” link under the post text. This is a lot like the simple functionality one sees in the activity stream on Facebook.


The other thing that Google Reader is doing is let you follow people. I am assuming this is less like Twitter and more like being in a Delicious network. Instead of overtly broadcasting that I like something to the whole Internet I can review the things people I am following are marking as interesting to them. This is an important step into building some strong link relationships between smart people and the content they consume. By following people in your network I think it will be easier to build a personal recommendation engine of sorts. If I trust someone enough to follow them then I am guessing I find their conversations interesting — and in this context the conversation starter is the fact they’ve shared something they appreciate.

Since I mentioned Delicious in this context I wonder if people will latch onto the idea the Reader environment could be a better place to pass along content? I don’t yet have a sense, but I am betting if Google added a “bookmarklet” type thing that would post content into the reader environment this could be successful. I don’t use Google Bookmarks much, but if they integrated more easily with the networks I am bound to establish in Reader I might.

Kicking the Gmail Tires

I have to say that I am falling deeper and deeper into the google universe these days. Not sure if it is the right thing to do, but the combination of all the Docs features and their overall simplicity has me spending more and more time using them for everything. One of their tools that I’ve always admired but didn’t use too much is Gmail. My wife lives in it — she constantly has it open on her MacBook. It is her only email client and she swears by its functionality. Between that and a conversation I had today I decided to take another step into the cloud and forward my work email into Gmail. I know it may sound crazy, but I am really digging it — so far.

This could be another one of my failed experiments and I’ll be back to my Apple Mail.app before too long. But so far I am finding a few things that I really like. The first is the overall customization of the platform itself. I can do lots of interesting things to make the space look and react the way I want it to. I have it set up with multiple inboxes so messages from certain people get their own little space … they still flow into my inbox, but this gives me the ability to highlight certain people more easily. When I combine that with the filters and labels I get a nice way to keep certain messages well organized.

Multiple Inboxes

Multiple Inboxes

I am also already finding that the mobile access simply kicks ass. The gmail interface on the iPhone is killer … I can do all the same stuff I can on my iPhone Mail.app and then some. It reformats for iPhone on the fly and it is speedy over the 3G connection. I haven’t tried it on Edge yet, but I do know at least one other gmail user on edge and he seems very happy with it. The search is available and that is one thing the Mail.app on the iPhone cannot do. I can also create a simple button that points right to my inbox and replace the standard Apple Maill.app button on my iPhone menu. I do lose notifications, but without push email here at PSU it isn’t a big deal.

Speaking of notifications, the ability to install something as simple as gmail notifier is a major bonus. Without having my browser open I can see what is new and I even get a little heads up display (a lot like a growl notification) that gives me a peek into what is new in my inbox. I’m already finding I am less distracted by not having my Mail.app client open all the time.


Finally, I have it set to send with the return address being my psu email address so it looks like it is actually coming from me at PSU when appropriate — and if I want to send it from my gmail address there is a little drop down menu that lets me do that. Easy. All in all I am digging it for now. I’ll keep trying it out and see where it leads me. Anyone else gone this route?

Chrome is Fast

Last night I spent some time with “the not ready for prime time” version of Google Chrome for Mac OSX. I didn’t think I’d like it on any level, but have heard that it is really fast using the Google tools. I can say that it is fast, really fast when using the Google suite — Reader, Docs, Calendar, and iGoogle. All were noticeably faster than what I am used to with Safari. After playing with this early build I am already convinced Google is on to something with a browser that is optimized for web applications. I know for a fact that I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in Chrome once it when it gets a bit more stable.

Better than Expected

Better than Expected

I’ve never been much of a Firefox fan, so the idea of using a non-Safari browser hasn’t really been high on my list. But if Chrome continues to progress and if the features continue to develop I’ll use it quite a bit. I’ve stepped away from using Office except for very rare occasions so having a faster and more feature rich browser to live in Docs is very appealing to me. This could essentially be the space a good portion of my productivity and collaboration happens — especially after Google Wave comes along.

If you’ll indulge me for a minute there is one thing the notion of a browser built for specific purposes reminds me of … an idea I had over ten years ago — a browser built to support education. It seems insane now that we’d need such a thing, but back in 1998 bandwidth was scarce and the level of interactivity was very low (unless you embedded a bunch of shockwave pieces). What I was thinking about was a client application that had all sorts of standard functionality built in that a simple text file could unlock. If you needed to do complex in-browser activities, the browser itself had the functionality and the text file would simply provide the content and the context to let it happen. All the tracking would have happened on the client side and be pushed to the server when a network connection was available. Seems hilarious now, but it seemed to make so much sense at the time. I know it is funny, but lots of ideas look silly after progress … I wonder if all the stuff we are hyped about now will look insane in 10 years?

More Waving

Thanks much for the comments from yesterday’s post! Seems there is real interest in the Google Wave platform out there in ed tech land. One thing that is striking me as interesting are the number of comments I’m getting these days via Twitter … what excites me is that people are reading in the moment and are compelled to share a short thought with me.

@colecamplese great commentary cole. Thanks for translating to .edu space! (from @Clifhirtle)

What concerns me is that these are comments that could potentially move the conversation further if left within the context of the blog post. And in that statement I am making the case for what I understand Wave to be — a platflorm that will allow for in stream communication that will filter back into context. This is amazing to me in and of itself. Today I figured out that it will be relatively easy for us to run our own Wave instance … this will (presumably) give us a layer of control that could empower a whole new level of openness and conversation in our classrooms.

The old thinking of commenting where I need you to could be destroyed — and that is an amazingly scary thought. I love it.

The big talk across the edublog space is that it could mean the end of the LMS. I’ll just say it, that’s crazy talk. What it probably means is that we might get a better footing in the LMS contract world and that we’ll have new opportunities to innovate. This platform can do quite a bit for us in the teaching and learning space, but as far as I can tell it probably will not be suited for testing on a real scale and it probably cannot replace the basics of the LMS definition — learner management. We need the LMS to do lots of things, but we also need new tools to support pedagogy that works to engage students. I think Wave will begin to even the playing field so that we have easy to use teaching and learning platforms alongside our real need to manage assessment, participation, and the like. Wave represents a new opportunity.

I am thinking quite a bit about a post by colleague Michael Feldstein … I think it and the comments should be part of any of our push to understand these changes. Its worth a read and a discussion. As always I am happy to hear thoughts!

Google Wave

I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of days to make sense of the Google Wave demo from the weekend. I’ve actually taken three days to watch the demo and I have to say I am both a bit stunned and impressed. Clearly this is a huge move and one that has big implications for all of us in the .edu space. If it will be ultimately successful as a product I can’t say quite yet — I was not lucky enough to be there and to get a developer account. I’m not even going to attempt to do a review or an overview … there are plenty of those available online and the demo gives a good a view as you are going to get for the time being.

There are a couple of things I do want to throw out as reactions and see if anyone else is thinking about this stuff — and I will be wanting to talk about it when we run into each other. The first thing that comes to mind is how obvious this all is — I mean once I’d seen it. They released the tool that so many people I spend time with are always talking about, typicaly in terms like “wouldn’t it be cool if we could just edit this document in real time and just blah, blah, blah.” In so many ways, it is a real representation of the many conversations I’ve had the last several years. Once I started to see how documents could be authored in such a naturally collaborative fashion I was sold. I’ve honestly not seen something so paradigm bending in a single demo in quite a long time.

Just the portion of the demo where they are collaboritivly editing a Wave that gets instantly published to a blog is mind blowing. When anyone can wander up to that blog post and drop comments or edits and it flows back into the Wave I was beyond astonished. I can now use a blog for a big class and have every single conversation happen in real time either in that blog or in my Wave client (if that is even a real thing). Instead of browsing to sites (even via an RSS reader) I can just stay in Wave and watch all of the conversations happen. Everything I need to do can live there — I think. If it really does pull together email, Twitter, and Herculean-powered google doc like features then I can only begin to see how this can change how we use technology in the classroom. Sign me up for that as my google for education suite — you can keep the rest.

And that is one of the other things that just blows my mind … Google previewed something that could make so much of their other stuff obsolete (even before much of it comes out of beta). Honestly, why would I use separate spaces for email, collaborative document creation, project management, communication, publishing, form building, and conversations of every shape and size when I can simply live in the Wave environment. Until I see it I can’t say for sure, but so far I am impressed.

As I was watching the demo I was hanging out with my friend and colleague, Scott McDonald. Scott and I taught a course together that has gotten some press for our use of Twitter … as we are watching this demo we kept chomping at the bit to give it a go next Spring. What it left me wondering was if this will be viewed as a massively disruptive environment like nearly all the other social platforms are, or if it will be welcomed into our teaching and learning environments? It seems to have so much of what we’d want from a platform that the implications for our work is enormous. I have to say I am very anxious to see how it plays with several of the ideas Scott and I have been tossing around.

The timing is amazing as well … just as we and so many others are entering into transitional periods with our LMS/CMS environments Wave has come along and shattered our notions of what it means to use the web as a platform to empower real time conversations. I know the traditional systems cannot catch up to something like this in time, it is quite frankly just too damn insane of an environment for them to latch onto. This isn’t like bolting a blogging platform to an existing code base, this is about rethinking the way we do things together face to face and online. It is about completely rethinking learning, teaching, authoring, sharing, collaborating, and so much more. I wonder if the rest of you feel as energized by the potential? From where I am sitting, this could be the start of what is next on so many levels.


For most of what I do I rely on a bunch of free online applications — I’ve written about it before, so there’s no real need to rehash the story. But today as I was scanning feeds I came across a post at Read Write Web, Google Giveth, and Taketh Away that has me thinking about it all a little bit. The post tells of Google either closing or stopping work on several free web-based services … clearly they aren’t their most popular ones, but with Google Video, Notebook, Jaiku, Catalog Search, and Dodgeball all going away it makes you pause and think about how much a bunch of us are relying on open and free services to do all sorts of things.

I wonder what would happen, if economic times continue to worsen, to other services that more people use? I know I would have a really hard time going back to paying for simple things like word processing and note taking applications — especially ones without the advanced syncing I’ve come to expect. I would also hate to see the innovation going on in the web-based application universe start to die. I am guessing YouTube killed Google Video, but Notebook was loved by many and existed as a powerful add on for FireFox — in other words, it was an app without real competition. My current favorites include Evernote, Google Docs, and LaLa … all free, but with some sort of revenue model sitting there for advanced features. I just wonder how much energy to dedicate to them given they could go poof in the middle of a massive economic downturn. What happens if Yahoo jumps out of the delicious or Flickr business? I (and a boat load of others) would be SOL.

I know it isn’t restricted to free online apps … many of us used HyperCard for years and Apple killed it. Remember Claris Works? Gone as well. I shouldn’t worry too much, but watching the mighty Google just decide to stop offering tools gave me a little pause. What should we be doing?

Partly Cloudy

I started last month writing quite a bit about living my life in the cloud with my new MacBook Air. I’m now even further into this experiment and I show little sign of turning back. There are a few things that continue to confound me — when I travel, for example, I take a ton of pictures and don’t want to dump them to the Air, but I have little other choice. I hate the idea of having multiple digital versions of the pictures … this seems like a silly thing, but trying to go completely into the cloud isn’t going to work for me. Keynote presentations are a whole other issue, but let’s just say I need to have at least a half dozen or more stacks so I can assemble presentations to fit the audience. And no, Google Presenter isn’t going to work (yet). So I guess at this point I can’t say I have left all local applications behind, but Microsoft Office is no longer part of my routine.

What really prompted this post is Google’s announcement of their Chrome open source browser project. What I find interesting about it is that it really looks like a micro-operating system to me. In other words, it will have built in functionality that will allow it to run web applications at new speeds with layers of protection that are usually reserved for an operating system. I’m no specialist here, but the fact that they are writing their own javascript engine (even though webkit already has one) tells me they want to make working with google web apps feel like working on the desktop. Imagine the Google Applications running in a browser that has its javascript tuned perfectly for performance from the applications … and then add full on Google Gears support and their little browser can now do anything you local app sitting on the OS can do.

If Chrome is successful, I imagine we’ll see new breeds of devices that can take advantage of the Chrome/Gears combo in new ways. I know I won’t be switching to it for full time browsing, but as my life in the cloud experiment continues I will be exploring it as the alternative for working with my Google Apps. It doesn’t look like a Mac version will be first out of the gate, but when it hits I’ll be ready. Any thoughts on this one?