Friday 4ALL: Google+

Another new social network has cropped up, but it’s hard to tell if it is worth an educator’s time to learn a new online tool. Google has entered the social networking world (unless you count Wave, Orkut, or Buzz as social networks) with Google+. Originally available to users during an invite-only phase, the site has grown to over 10 million users in a little over two weeks of existence.

What makes Google+ different or even more educationally prudent than Twitter or Facebook? Well, there are many things that make it more ideal for the classroom, even in these early stages.

Google+’s circles allow for more customization for grouping followers. One of the scares for teachers using Facebook is that it is too easy for administrators, parents, and students to see private posts that could jeopardize their reputations or even their jobs. Sure, privacy settings and some customization every time something is posted is a possibility, but Facebook changes privacy settings too often to depend on keeping anything truly private. The circles in Google+ make it possible to limit everything you post to specific groups. Create circles for different classes or have them available for both private and personal use. It’s really quite a seamless process.

Hangouts are the best thing to happen to free video conferencing since Skype. Have a discussion with a class in another school or organize a lesson for sick or vacationing students. The hangouts feature makes online video discussion very simple. Also, you can once again limit these hangouts to particular circles. Facebook is trying to get their own video conferencing up and running, but Google+’s feature is already here.

Sparks make it possible to filter one’s stream. Students could focus their streams on specific topics like politics, poetry, or an infinite number of topics. Teachers could also do this to watch for developments in various educational topics or current events. One has to wonder if this feature will soon be as customizable as hashtags on Twitter.

Google+ is still a long way from being what it could potentially become, but there is promise there that Twitter and Facebook cannot offer. For one, the new Google+ status bar at the top of every Google tool suggests greater integration of the tools, but this has yet to come to fruition. As Google+ grows in popularity, we might see a re-introduction of Google Wave or at least some approximation of the failed collaborative tool that eventually failed. Still, Wave was ahead of its time and could become an important piece in G+’s future.

What do you think of Google+? What are the classroom applications you can see in using this tool? Will Google+ replace today’s top social media sites or will it go the way of Friendster and even MySpace?

To get started with Google+, check out this blog post for some basics.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center as well as an early adopter of Google+.