Why Google plus will fail

Before I began my first degree in Psychology, I read a book about how friendships work. It goes like this:

“The development of friendship occurs through the skills of partners in revealing or disclosing their attitudes first and later their personalities, inner characters and true selves. This must be done in a reciprocal manner, turn-by-turn, in a way that keeps pace with revelations and disclosures made by the partner” (Duck S. 1983 pg67)

When the first big social network (Facebook) began it was based on the idea of a college yearbook (Name, Photo, Personal information). That’s fine for a yearbook, because everybody who reads it will likely be part of the same social network. In the real world even this “basic” information can vary radically according to who we interact with.

For example, I have no single photo suitable for everyone I know. Work colleagues expect a professional photo (at a desk with Second Life running); personal friends want something more about me (Capsule hotel, Tokyo, 2001); Second Life friends expect, well, an avatar…

Then there’s my name. Surely that’s consistent? Well, again, the same three groups probably expect, respectively, Dr Rudman, Paul, PD Alchemi. Think about it. What does your boss call you? Your mother? Your partner at 1am?

Revealing one’s full name and work identity could be way too much of a leap for a new social acquaintance. A photo that somehow reveals religious or political views could be a shock for work colleagues who may have assumed something completely different. It’s not that these things are “secret”, just that they need to be shared appropriately.

We are all at some stage in the friendship forming process with each of our “friends”. For some it will be a temporary stage as we move forward. For others it will be a stage from which we prefer not to move further forward. But whatever the stage, we need to be careful not to jump too far ahead, not to reveal something which that particular friendship is not yet ready for.

Google plus – Google’s foray into the world of social networking – allows people to be allocated to “circles”, i.e. groups for filtering information. It’s a significant step forward, but alas, I suspect it will not be enough. Not all friends are equal. Some can be told about the club last night, some can’t; some can know about holiday exploits, others cannot. There needs to be some form of categorisation system that matches up individuals and information, so people can slowly move from strangers to “inner circle” – or not, as desired.

Google plus’s twitter-esque ability of one-sided friendships, also known as “following” people, or putting strangers in one’s circle, is another good move, but without a new system for controlling who sees what it’s just Twitter@Google.

One complaint about Google plus is that it won’t let people create an account for their avatar. An avatar is a mechanism for social relationships, whether Google like it or not. We recently saw the beginnings of a social network for avatars in Second Life. It’s pretty rudimentary at present, but it will probably survive, maybe even thrive, because it partly fills this gap.

The fundamental problem is one of revealing personal information appropriate to the depth of each social relationship. *Everything* needs to be tailored to the people who will receive it. Everything you post, your name, your photo, the other people in your network – who they are, what they represent and what they post – all say a lot more than most people realise. All can damage the delicate sequence and balance of a social relationship.

Circles were a great idea, but they just don’t go far enough. There needs a finer grained definition of who should know what. Like a leaking bucket, it’s not the bucket that needs fixing, it’s the leak.

And that’s why Google plus fails to improve on Facebook and Twitter, and ultimately will fail to become the new dominant social network.

Comments please…

Paul Rudman, BDRA

Duck, Steve. 1983. Friends, for life: the psychology of close relationships. Harvester Press, Brighton, Sussex


Out with the old, in with the new?

I was recently asked to add a Follow us on Facebook and a Follow us on Twitter icon to the Media Zoo website. Not a problem I thought, both websites provide brand guidelines, logos and html to easily insert these features into your website. Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on Plone (the Content Management System controlling the Univesity website) and its portlets.

I wanted to horizontally align the two images within a portlet and have URLs on both images. Unfortunately after many attempts I couldn’t get this to work. After talking to the web team my options were:

  1. Include text saying ‘follow us’ after each icon. For me this defeated the purpose of the icons.
  2. Use an image map. This is an image where you can click on different areas of the image and they will have different URLs.
  3. Use a table. No, no and no. A table is for tabular data only, not layout. These icons would not fall into that category.

So an image map it was, which while better than a table is quite an old-fashioned approach to web design. But it worked:

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Now I do completely understand why CMS are necessary on a large website to introduce consistency and an easy to use approach for its editors. but without knowledge of best practice, by its editors, a CMS can still have its issues.

But it makes me wonder: do outdated techniques impact negatively on innovation? To quote Sex and the City: can you get to the future with your past still present?

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

DAY 6 at LFF2010

… with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and Marcus Bentley

T’was the day after Monday, and all over town –
Many noses were frozen, and much snow fluttered down…

Good thing this is an online conference, because getting in to Leicester for 9 am on this Tuesday would have been a nightmare…

The day began  with Gilly’s daily address which through pre-recorded, went rather well. I found the idea – suggested by Gilly, that each educational institution was an enterprise that needs to evolve – to be quite interesting. Considering the different parts of the world that participants have been joining sessions from, the discussions, questions and comments related to experiences and observations from a range of varying contexts. An energetic debate focussed on an emerging trend of a more pronounced consumer mentality of educational ‘shoppers’ (students and parents) and that this might force forces HEIs to adopt adversarial business models because they have to compete more and more with each other.

Following this was Tessa Welch’s keynote address which suggested that the main value of OERs (open educational resources) in Africa’s context is that they provide momentum for the surfacing of good quality existing resources as OERs, which would otherwise remain undiscovered or remain locked within institutions or publishers. She drew extensively on SAIDE’s experience in a pilot OER project resulting in the adaptation and use of a module in the teaching and learning of mathematics in six South African institutions, and also on the lessons of experience in taking this to scale for a teacher education space on the OER Africa platform. The discussion sessions for this keynote followed later in the day.

At 1100 GMT, five bravehearts joined Simon, Terese and Paul (aka Johnson, Aallyah and PD Alchemi) in Second Life for the Oil rig evacuation, and though this was only the second time that this session was run in SL. Attendees found it to be most enjoyable. Some of them admitted to be scared by the ‘fire’ that led to the evacuation scenario.

The OTTER team led 22 attendees through the Open Wide workshop at 12 noon, which focussed on reward and recognition for academic staff for making teaching materials freely available as OERs. The presenters suggested that despite the recent, dramatic increase in the number of OER repositories in the UK HE sector and some altruistically motivated academics making their teaching materials freely available for re-use, concerns remain regarding appropriate reward and recognition for staff contributions of OERs.

The afternoon sessions began with Emma Kimberley’s presentation on the University of Leicester’s Graduate School Media Zoo initiative that supports postgraduate researchers. This paper took an overview of the challenges of supporting and connecting postgraduate researchers at UoL through the development of a physical and virtual ‘research forum’ based within the University  Library. An interesting discussion ensued, with reflections from several participants on their own experiences of support that they had as postgraduate students.

At 1500 GMT, David Wolfson’s (an independent education consultant) paper titled ‘Eight Years Old and Already Collaborating Online’ focussed on what the future holds for HE (considering that today’s 8-year olds will be entering HE in about a decade), describing a stepped approach to successful online teacher- and student-led learning in schools. Practical evidence  – from senior leaders and learners at over 100 schools of all types and sizes as they set out to use learning platforms – was brought to bear on the proceedings.

Later, Stuart Johnson, David Morgan and Matthew Mobbs from the University of Leicester shared their experiences of using social media (especially  Facebook and Twitter) to engage with students about issues deemed important for Student Development and the Students’ Union at the university of Leicester’s Student Support Service and Students’ Union. A lively discussion followed with a range of practitioners contributing their experiences from different aspects of providing and receiving pastoral and learning support for students.

Following the Second Life Campfire, the last paper of the day was from Dr Richard Mobbs, which challenged listeners to put the ‘PLE in to the VLE’. VLEs being more often than not designed to meet the needs of the institution, rather than the learner, the time – Richard claimed – had come to integrate new developments like online social networks, mobile technologies, widely-used social software applications and others to provide ‘more PLE’ within the context of the main VLE provision.

This is a screen-grab from Twitter on what people were saying about LFF2010 on Tuesday evening. One keynote from a previous day has proven inspirational and the attendees of the SL Oil Rig Evacuation from earlier in the day sound happy!!

That Was The Day 6 That Was … now Day 7 awaits. Enjoy!

– Jai Mukherjee / 13 January 2010

Getting a bad name? Social networking and Micro-blogging

I’m a big fan of social networking and I’m slowly becoming hooked on micro-blogging as an essential mechanism of staying in touch with people and finding out what they are researching or challenges they face in their daily lives. If you were to look at my old technologies, i.e. my bookshelf, you will see a massive collection of autobiographies, so you can no doubt see my fascination with the new way of telling the world all about yourself!

But are these technologies getting a bad name, and if so is it fair or just a result of some miss-informed individual’s?

In the last 48 hours there have been two major stories breaking here in the UK. The first being personal details about the life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, having to be removed from Facebook amid security concerns after his wife had posted details about their children and the location of their flat on the site. Maybe not a good idea at the best of times but are you seriously telling me that special forces from the around world do not have other mechanisms to find this information out?

The second case actually stems from Australia, where Twitter users who lack an audience for their messages can now buy followers. A social media marketing company is offering a service that finds followers for users of the micro-blogging service. Followers are available in blocks of 1,000 starting at £53. Why?

OK, so I have some people on my Facebook account I do not know really well and maybe should not have linked but then I do not put anything on my Facebook that I would not share in other ways. There are many people who follow me on Twitter that I do not know but that is the idea – you have followers who are interested in what you are writing about and you can share resources and ideas.


Keeper of the Media Zoo

Pianos – New Facebook? A Story About Non-Digital Disruptive Innovation and Bishops Itchington

It is hot, hot, hot, isn’t it? And with everyone trying to make the best out of the British summer while it lasts, people are crowding the Great Outdoors – i.e. any horizontal patch of grass they can spot.
Take Leicester Square in London. On Tuesday it contained hoards of people, certainly equivalent in numbers to the population of Bishops Itchington (I have no idea what that number actually is, and if you insist, yes, I did choose it as example because of the name, and yes, it is a real place.)
There were people sitting on the benches, lying on the grass, splashing in the fountain, presumably some were pick-pocketing while others were buying ice-cream, smudging ice-cream on their clothes, removing ice-cream smudges from their clothes – the usual pastimes. And then, there was someone playing the piano. Only in this case, it was not the usual street performer. It was a young guy, looking a bit shy and a bit like a tourist and playing a bit out of tune a Rihanna tune. And yet, he was surrounded by people, listening intently, smiling, applauding him encouragingly, some recording his performance on their phones. Passers-by stopped, joined the little crowd surrounding the piano, listened and started conversations with other people. When the player finished, he got up and his place was taken by a girl who had been standing in the audience, until her friends pushed her forward. She played beautiful classical music, attracting more people to the little crowd. What was going on?
It was all part of an art project – Piano in The Street – by the artist Luke Jerram. The project involves placing 30 pianos in open public places. Anyone can play them. On his website the artist says that the pianos in the street are meant to be an interconnected resource for people to express themselves, and like Facebook, to connect and to create. This is what Luke Jerram says on his website:
“Why is it that when I go to the laundrette I see the same people each week and yet nobody talks to one another? Why don’t I know the names of the people who live opposite my house? Play Me, I’m Yours was designed to act as a catalyst for strangers who regularly occupy the same space, to talk and connect with one another. ..Disrupting people’s negotiation of their city, the pianos are also aimed to provoke people into engaging, activating and claiming ownership of their urban landscape.”

In Leicester Square it was fascinating to watch how a piece of technology without a single computer chip in it, a technology which has existed for the past 300 years can be re-invented to bring people together in an innovative and creative way. Especially as the little old piano, covered in stickers and graffiti, was surrounded by the big billboards of the cinemas in Leicester Square, with the images of the super-tech, overpowering Transformers 3 and Terminator 4 staring down coldly at the busy chattering human crowd. I couldn’t help but connect the little piano’s magnetism to the playfulness, inquisitiveness and social learning in human beings, beautifully illustrated by Prof. Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall. And it made me think – how much space is there in the pedagogies of today for curiosity, experimentation and creativity by the learners? How much do we want it to be tomorrow?

02/07/09 University of Leicester BDRA
Sandra Romenska

Device Flicking

I’ve often reflected on my teenage daughter’s abilities to multi-task with multiple digital devices and still produce amazing pieces of school work. I frequently come home from work to see her sat on the floor in the living room with the TV on, the laptop on her knees so she can type up her school work, whilst ‘MSNing’ her friends from school (probably about matters I do not want to know about!), updating our dog’s popular Facebook profile and sometimes she even manages to squeeze in a bit of collaboration in an online game through her Nintendo DSi with an old friend from our days in Sheffield all at the same time. Maybe you see similar behaviour with your own children too?

A recent publication from ChildWise (the leading research specialist on children, teenagers and their parents) reports that one in three children told their researchers the possession they could least live without was their computer. The survey of 1,800 children ranging between the ages of 5 and 16, which was undertaken last autumn, found they were spending on average 2.7 hours per day watching television, 1.5 hours on the Internet and 1.3 hours on games consoles.

It was also reported that a casualty of all this screen time has been reading – with only 0.6 hours per day on average and with the number of children reading for pleasure in their own time falling from 80% last year to 75%.

All of this interests me (even if it does not worry me) because in October 2008 the Next Generation Learning initiative was launched to ensure all of England’s school-age children have computer access at home. In January 2009 the Oxford University Press attempted to get boys to enjoy reading with books illustrated with computer- generated images.

I sometimes interrupt my daughter and ask how she copes with all this information, technology and tasks simultaneously – she just stares back at me with a blank expression on her face and says, “It’s natural!”

Is this the latest phase of evolution? Are we developing and promoting a new generation of multi-taskers who will be able to cope with all the stresses and strains of modern employment?

Matthew Wheeler

Keeper of the Media Zoo 

Social Notworking

Before you all jump in with comments about my spelling, don’t worry I have not misspelt the title of this posting, it is simply a play on words, for today trusted readers, I’m talking about a new phenomena known as ‘Social Notworking’ which is a term I suspect will be included in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary!

It appears that students at Bournemouth University have been complaining that access to computers has been reduced because fellow students are hogging the machines to check their Facebook and Twitter accounts. There is a call for certain computers at Bournemouth to be specifically marked for academic use only. Interestingly the debate has rumbled on with some university sources defending social networks as they are also being used for legitimate academic reasons.

I find this scenario particularly interesting with the growing support for Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Cloud Computing – is this another ‘greying’ of the boundaries which technologies always appear to cause? Or is it that the growth of technology adoption is out-pacing our understanding of it potential and therefore is easily frowned upon?

I personally find Facebook and LinkedIn excellent ways of keeping in touch with large numbers and various cohorts of people from all aspects of my live; I also enjoy reading people’s statuses and the kind of things that are happening in others lives, where they are in the world and the issues they are reflecting on.

Perhaps you can share your experience of social networking and we can discuss the positive and negative aspects to help us clarify the situation for the future?

Matthew Wheeler
Keeper of the Media Zoo

Academics in the public sphere: A gentle wake-up call

This post will look at two key and current issues to do with online social networks, assess what impacts such developments have on the academic community, and question why such developments are increasingly met with resounding silence from academics.

Let’s start off with the issues. First, the recently emerging trends of changing demographics of social networks; and second, the UK government’s proposal to monitor social networks for possible terrorist or ‘anti-social’ activities.

Recent research into Facebook’s membership reveals that the number of Americans over the ages of 35, 45, and 55 is rapidly growing. Over the last 2 months alone, the number of people over 35 joining Facebook has nearly doubled. It would not be extrapolating too far to suggest that as a result, more academic practitioners (in the age-group 35 to 55, and over) are also increasingly participating in social networks.

Though this data-set looks only at American users, the changing demographics on any established social network presents a challenge for developers and marketers to think about how to best serve/target such groups of new users, wherever in the world they might be.

In the same vein, such shifting demographics presents renewed possibilities too – for academic institutions and employers providing lifelong or work-based learning opportunities – to tap into this trend and perhaps enhance what they offer and how they offer it.

Yet a naysayer would suggest that learners do really want to keep their work and social lives separate and that they do not want to be always available to their lecturers or bombarded with academic information on their social networks. Employers, on the other hand, are so aghast at the so called ‘wastage’ of £130 million per day that they are rushing to ban staff from logging on to social networks.

Considering that social networks are here to stay and that learner-preference for technology is rapidly changing, does a middle ground exist – which could benefit both sides? As well as it might, most academics do not seem prepared to venture an informed opinion on such matters without resorting to the clichés of ‘it needs further investigation’ or ‘we need more funding to look into it’.

Have we stopped seeing what is staring us in the face? Or are we too caught up in the ivory towers of our disciplinary specifics to take cognizance of changing technological times and react to it? The silence of informed voices from members of the academic community on issues of current import is indeed deafening. Have academics and public intellectuals ceded the forum for ideas and debate to the state and to those willing to campaign for/against the state?  

Most of us watched, heard, read and surfed in silence while the media was abuzz with alarm earlier this week, over the UK Government’s plans to monitor all conversations on social networking sites – including Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter as well as internet calls on Skype – in an attempt to crackdown on terror.

The government argues that in view of a clear and present terrorist threat, there is a need to monitor all manner of communication technologies, which terrorists – like the rest of us – have easy and unbridled access too.

But when the justification for this is provided by organizations like the Federation of American Scientists on the lines of – “Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences” – it begins to infringe on freedoms as we know it.

Campaigners like Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, claim that the widespread use of social networking websites “highlights the enormity of government ambitions for the surveillance of the entire population … Technological development is used as an excuse for centralized snooping of a kind that ought never to be acceptable in the oldest unbroken democracy on earth.”

The academic community is still considered a part of the public sphere where opinions, however contrarian and in opposition to the mainstream, can be freely aired in the spirit of debate, and dissention is not frowned upon. Yet within it there is hesitancy and inertia in embracing the tools of online communication that facilitate such debate and dissention in ways that have not been tried before.

There very few academics ready to raise voices against such proposals anymore – not only via formal and distilled communication channels like the mass media, but not even on the more informal and opinionated routes like the ‘blogsphere’. 

If academia is to remain the custodian and nurturer of ideas, we need to make our voices heard, not just on the matters that impact us directly but also on issues that affect the wider community. And we need to do this by stepping beyond our usual routes of dissemination, by embracing the technologies that give us newer audiences and platforms, which are perhaps more questioning and resistant, but also in need of informed opinion that enriches the debate.

This is not a call to arms.

It is a lament for what we are missing out on and a wake up call that we might just want to heed before the opportunity passes us by.

Over to you!


– Jaideep Mukherjee, 27 March 2009

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