Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Choose Wikis over Google...?!

The Marketplace
For the last number of years educator's have been turning to wiki platforms to create collaborative spaces. The ease of use, access, and availability of wikis have made them a favourite option for teacher's hoping to create an online space to share with their students. But Google has quickly become an increasingly popular choice for use among educators, especially for district-wide implementation - a corporate, strategic, server-side solution instead of a one-off classroom solution for those lucky enough to have a board with a sense of innovation.

And over the last little while the growth of Google Apps and the development of cross-platform applications has made Google even more attractive. Recently Google launched its Google Apps Marketplace and what really caught my attention was the quality of competitor applications which are available. Zoho, an Indian application and services suite that competes with Google apps and which I really like, has integrated its CRM and Projects apps with Google apps.

The logic behind this is both good for business and the user:
  • It gives application developers access to a massive pool / market of users;
  • Google will be able to provide an even richer user experience in the cloud; and
  • Google users will be able to make use of fantastic apps without having to create an account elsewhere: prior to the Google Marketplace if we wanted to make use of a Project Management web app we would have to login elsewhere, but not now.
In fact, Zoho has offered Google sign-in on it's own platform for quite a while, and these two services (Zoho and Google Apps) about cover it all when it comes to personal and business cloud computing...would love to see more integration between these two.

Public Data Visualization
A few weeks ago Google launched a new labs tool, Google Public Data Explorer. As the name indicates, this new Google Labs tool offers a visual way to look at and analyze large public data sets on a variety of topical search categories. The public data sets cover about 80+ categories of data and are taken from the following sources:
  • World Bank
  • OECD Factbook 2009
  • Eurostat
  • US Census
  • National Center for Health Statistics (US)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(US)...and a few others
As you can see, Statistics Canada data is not included...and as a Canadian who is familiar with Stats Can's obsession with releasing, or should I say withholding, data from the public something tells me this is more of a Stats Can issue than a Google one.

There's a lot of useful and valuable "lesson-friendly" data to play with. And users can play with the data and reshape the visualizations into line graphs, bar graphs, maps and bubble charts, which can be shared by direct URL or embedded...checkout our Consumer Price Index data visualization comparing Canada and Australia from 1955 to 2007:





Classroom / Project Sites
No new news here, Google Sites has been around for quite a while. But I remain really surprised when colleagues choose to work with a wiki instead of exploring the possibility of developing a Google site.

With Google sites you have the ability to create data tables which you can sort, add drop down menus to, date, checkboxes, urls...in short a database entry and display form. There's the endless world of Google apps and gadgets you can integrate: spreadsheets, presentations, videos, calendar, map, web sideshow, and so forth. And if you're willing to take an extra few minutes, with no knowledge of coding or web languages you can create some really interactive services, like a public web form which will capture data in a spreadsheet...think surveys, questionnaires, etc. for free. Hey, why not take our quick four question survey.

Google sites is an incredibly flexible, rich, and collaborative environment, with the foundation of Google apps as its support, Sites is Google's answer to SharePoint.

Google's Blogger was a massive hit during the early years of blogging but has been recently overshadowed by some very impressive competition: Wordpress, Typepad.

However, Blogger has recently introduced some features which make it a very inviting product. Blogger users can now create "pages", allowing bloggers to easily publish static information on stand-alone pages. And last week Blogger template designer was released to help bloggers design and customize the look of their blog, no web design knowledge required.

I've posted before on the usefulness of blogger for classroom projects, and these two tools (Google Sites and Blogger) can be used to compliment each other and, along with all the other Google apps, create an amazing collaborative environment for teaching, learning, and socializing.

Integration with Microsoft Office
Lastly, many corporate IT outfits won't even consider Google apps or docs because they're a Microsoft environment. OffiSync, a new plugin for Microsoft Office, has changed that. OffiSync allows users to sync files between the two systems.

Last word...
I know there will be many who will say Moodle, or a true open source solution, is the way to go for developing learning and education-based environments. You own and control your data, and it's not locked in some datastore-type product.

I agree, and so do all the big players like Google and Microsoft, which is why they're actively involved in exploring and developing with open source. The reality is the increasingly out-of-sync relationship between user expectations and corporate IT services response: users are expecting way more than most traditional IT services can deliver. And enter the cloud...Google is such a dominant beast in the web services world, to not take advantage of its services to help us prepare and deliver our classroom activities is silly. With 16,000+ employees working to make Google the web service platform of choice, it becomes a practical and fiscal decision: plus, customized open source development is expensive and waiting for the community of volunteer developers to build what you need is, well, slow moving.