The past several posts I’ve been singing the praises of Google. However, all is not perfect in Google Land. There have been the occasional really bad ideas – Google Wave, for example – and the abandonment of some really good ideas, such as Google Notebook. In this post I’m going to stay away from the more published flaws that Google has had to endure. Instead, I’ll cover just a few things that I’ve found to be a bother.
I’ve already mentioned that until only recently, group accounts could not be used for Google Maps, Picasa, or other many other Google products. That really limited the effectiveness of those accounts. Fortunately, that has been corrected. However, there are still a few things that are not quite right.
I’m participating in a a county-wide committee to develop a standards-based report card using PowerSchool. We needed a way to collaborate, and I figured that a Google Group would be just the place to do it. We could set up pages, share files, and create discussions. I got the site all set up and sent out e-mail invitations to the participants. I had just logged in to set up some of the first pages, when I got this message:
Google Groups will no longer be supporting the Pages and Files features. Starting November 1, you won’t be able to upload new content, but you will still be able to view and download existing content.
Oh, bother. That was the very reason I had select Groups. The discussion portion of Groups is the weakest part, so this was not going to work for us.
I did find a solution, though. I’m still using some Google documents set to collaborative mode, but these are under my own account on Spart5.info. For the main project collaboration I decided to use a wiki developed on PBWorks.com. So far, everything looks great. In fact, it looks like it’s going to be easier than when I tried to do this in Google Groups.
I’ve seen this happen before – a company rolls out a product, then either withdraws it, or ends the free version of it. It happened with Google Notebook, a fantastic research tool, and it also happened with Ning.com.
This one is a different type of problem. I got into Google Voice early and had my own number set up. Users can still sign up for their own numbers on Google Voice. However, as of this summer Google has incorporated phone dialing into every GMail account.
My first reaction was that this was a fantastic way to provide phone access in the classroom for those teachers that might not have it. I even shared this with our assistant superintendent.
My excitement was short-lived, however. Chat is blocked in our district as a category (a policy I’m thinking about reversing.) That means that the components to make this work aren’t available in the classroom. That’s easily fixed by some judicious tweaking of our Internet filters. However, there is a more serious problem.
If you already have a Google Voice account, the caller ID number returned is the number that you selected. If you don’t have Google Voice and make a call through GMail, the same number is returned on caller ID, regardless of who made the call. I can see lots of problems with this, and not just in an education setting.
Let’s say someone makes a harassing call, or, worse yet, a bomb threat. As far as I know there is know way to track it down. I’m hoping Google comes up with a solution. Until I have some of those questions satisfied, I don’t think I’ll be recommending this for our teachers.
Here’s another problem with our filtering. It seems that the gadgets available for iGoogle pages are not policed by Google, and many contain loads of inappropriate material. Without even trying, I found gadgets that would display various scantily-clad women on my iGoogle page.
It looked like the actual content was blocked by our Internet filters. However, I couldn’t be sure, and the gadgets themselves seemed to be enough trouble. I figured that I would just not add that to the list of available gadgets for our new domain name. I haven’t blocked them outright from personal accounts, but I’ll let our current settings on our Internet filters do what they are supposed to do.
So, there are three basic problems here, as follows:
- Vanishing options
- Inappropriate use of appropriate materials
- Providing access to inappropriate materials
I don’t really blame Google. They introduce and phase out features as technology changes and as business models change. Even the free calls from Google Voice may soon go away in favor of a fee system.
Censorship is supposedly anathema to Google (although you wouldn’t know if from their recent dealings with China.) Therefore I can understand why the last item is a potential problem.
As for the middle item, I’m just waiting to here of an account where someone has misused the calling capabilities. I guess I need to do more research and see if Google has a way of tracking inappropriate calls. However, the ability to do that, itself, would be a bit scary.