The Great Google Experiment

Well, OK, not that great but I like alliteration 🙂

For #FAM09, we decided to make use of the Google Sites facility to manage all of our information flow around the event. We did mount information formally on the JISC website, but there is much richer information on the JISC FAM09 Google Site. This was really part of an experiment on my part as I wanted to know how efficiently Google could support our information requirements, as information is their business!

We were already using Google Docs to manage most of our information. Normally, I would then use the JISC website for the programme+BOS Surveys for the registration+slideshare for slides (copied to the JISC website)+a.n.other for audio / video+this blog+possibly something like Ning for delegates to talk about the event. Given that the JAM team is not overly resourced, I wanted to make life a lot easier for myself, so decided to see if Google could duplicate most of this functionality with a reasonable amount of ease.

My observations?

  • Ease of Use: Google Sites is pretty easy to use, and has some nice built in tools like the ability to create different types of pages such as html pages, announcement pages, document pages, and widgit pages. None of the team had used Google Sites before and we all picked it up pretty quickly.
  • Look and feel: Google Sites has a number of templates that you can chose from, and there are a variety of tools available for editing the templates. I managed to get ours looking a bit JISC-y. It would be nice to be able to create a formal JISC template, but I couldn’t see a way of uploading your own template. The urls for pages are fairly sensible, and you can chose to have word or number strings for pages.
  • Forms: the forms function was very helpful and the outputs automagically created an Excel spreadsheet in our Google Docs. This was so much better and easier to manage than out normal form system so was a really big win.
  • Upload: it is fairly easy to embed a document from your Google Docs into a Google Site. Making sure that all of the permissions are set so that people can download or embed in other sites (particularly presentations) was more complex and I had to revisit permission in both Google Docs and Google Sites several times before I got this right – leading to some requests for documents to be shared with delegates (sorry all). It was better than previously as Google does now let you set share permission across a whole folder of documents, but still annoying. The biggest grumble was the document page template on the Google Site. This doesn’t link to Google Docs at all and you have to physically upload files on to the Sites area. an unnecessary and annoying duplication. The presentation facilities aren’t as advanced or pretty as slide share, but the convenience of not having to upload on yet another site was helpful.
  • Access Management: this was one of the most disappointing features of the site. To even be able to leave a comment, you needed to be logged in, and the only way to log in was with a Google ID. This was despite the fact that the site was fully open. Given this was a federated access event, this was a big fail for me.
  • User Profiles: this really links in to the point above, but it was not possible to create a proper user profile on the site. This really cut down on some of the interaction features that I would expect from a site like Ning. However, at events I have attended in the past where Ning has been used, actual meaningful use of the functions have been low. Is this really in demand as a facility?

So overall, it was a helpful, if not completely professional approach to managing all the information for the event. I still have to finalise some details – I want to pull in some RSS feeds and look at embedding some other tools but it worked pretty well. I will really need to consider the access management, document management and template issues before using again. I’m also slightly worried now the Developer Happiness Days have gone all website posh on me…must keep up with the Jones’!

2 thoughts on “The Great Google Experiment

  1. Andy Powell

    Useful experiment.

    The ‘access control fail’ thing is interesting – that’s interesting as in, “quite frustrating”, you understand… because it was a barrier to easy access to the presentations during the event which would have been useful. I thought I’d seen successful use of public stuff within Google docs but perhaps I’m mis-remembering? I know that the presentations could be downloaded and viewed locally, but having them embeddable (tweetable, and properly linkable) would have been a win I think.

    More generally, I think any consideration of where to host stuff has to include both the needs/expectations of the user as well as the provider. Just cos something is easier to maintain/create doesn’t make it the right choice. Slideshare has kinda become the de facto standard for online presentations, so people just expect that to be the done thing. To do something different detracts from much of the ‘social’ benefit of making the stuff available – commenting, re-embedding, etc.

    I tend to agree with your sentiments about Ning.

    Note that none of this detracts from an otherwise highly successful event.

  2. nicole

    Hi Andy

    I have to agree – SlideShare is superior in its offerings and re-usability. My only gripe with it is slow upload and it being ‘yet another place’ to manage stuff. Right now, I think we will continue using it as our main slide source though.

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