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Google Plus vs. Facebook Video Chat: Why teachers and the education market will (or should) lean towards Google Plus

Published by Jason Neiffer on July 6th, 2011 

It is a big summer so far in social networking.  Google Plus was released last week, and a lot of tech geeks agree that its circles and “handout” features are both useful and a potential game-changer for work groups and web workers, and in my opinion, online schools and distance learning programs.

Facebook also upped the ante today announcing Facebook Video Chat, backed by Skype technology (now a subsidiary of Microsoft).

As you might expect, these two technologies will face off in coming days and months in an endless stream of chatter comparing the two.  Is Google too late?  Is Facebook too powerful?  Will users adopt a new technology?  Will users keep up both?  All excellent questions.

For tech-savvy teachers, however, I think the answer is clear.  Google Plus is positioned to bring an easily adoptable, broad set of tools to face-to-face and virtual schools alike.Follow me down a path for a moment.

Circles: A Killer Education App

The Google Plus “circle” features adds something to social networking that make it a must-go-to for teachers or other professionals that want to separate their personal life and professional life without creating a number of different accounts to do so.  Being able to take your contacts and saying “these are family, share this stuff” and “these are colleagues or students, share this stuff” is an extremely powerful toolset for teachers and other professionals.  Is there potential for awkward moments if you aren’t careful?  Of course there is.  But for the tech-savvy, this is a big leap forward.

Facebook has list features that you can accomplish some of the same, but, Mark Zuckerburg today said that lists are for power users only, something that isn’t a new attitude from Facebook.

Point?  Google Plus

Hangouts: A Killer Communication App

Circles are cool, but, I think the “killer” feature in Google Plus “hangout” functionality.  LifeHacker goes into some detail about this, in case you haven’t seen the coverage, but this is one of the first tools I have been that makes group video chat an effortless reality.  I am a virtual school administrator that works remotely often as my office is 90 miles over a mountain pass from my home.  To add complexity, my teaching staff is spread over thousands of square miles in Montana.  Our students are in even more diverse locations.  My organizations knows Skype and Google Video chat as a critical tool.  At first glance, I think this as a solution to the problem of providing scalable, inexpensive group video chat to the masses.  We struggle with providing connectivity to our teachers and students and the commercial solutions are both cumbersome and expensive.  The open source solutions are ham-handed and haven’t been embraced by enterprise-level Moodle hosting.  Google hangouts are potentially great for meetings, small class group discussions, language labs and a lot of other things that used to require anything from WebEx to GoToMeeting to Elluminate (now owned by Blackboard), all at a substantial cost.

Facebook Video Chat is cool, I guess, but it is only one to one.  We have been able to do that with Skype for quite some time.

Skype has group chat, but only at a cost for its extended service.

Point? Google Plus.

Acceptance: The Real Advantage for Google Plus

Pretend for a moment that both tools have 100% equal features.  Which one is more likely to bring a meaningful toolset to teachers and classrooms?  Hands down, the answer is Google Plus.  Facebook, for better or worse, has been scorn by scores of teachers, administrators and parents as a waste of time… a potential danger… a line-crosser… a place where there are endless photos of kids and adults alike drunk, high and nude.

Google has its share of issues and its most powerful apps are blocked in some districts, but, the likelihood of your students and colleagues having an account that is accessible even in a high filtering environments is high.  The likelihood of talking leery administrators into utilizing the features of Google (especially with the granular Circles settings that gives you ultimately control of information) is much higher than getting the green light to suddenly adopt Facebook for interaction or chat.  In my mind?  That means that Google Plus wins hands down.

This is especially true when Plus eventually makes it over to Google Apps for Education.  It could be an incredibly powerful tool that could given some control by districts to help fight some of the real problems with all of these tools, like bullying.

Point?  Google Apps

The Caveat: Adoption

I was on Google Plus day one and my neighborhood nerd-friend-squad was quick to figure out their way on as well.  Most agreed: this is great step forward and had some features that Facebook doesn’t have or won’t have.  But, for those that already have hundreds of friends on Facebook, will they jump to another social platform just to hang out with you?

After Google Buzz was released, I wasn’t as concerned about the privacy aspects, I was concerned about having another social network to maintain and check: the last thing I need is another social network.  I think that Google Plus, even though it is better integrated with all of the Google products and has lots of evidence of forethought and learning from their mistakes in both Buzz and Wave, may just not get the critical mass of users.

I am always surprised when I say this out loud, but, not everyone has a Google account (gasp).  I am always shocked at the numbers of students and parents that I deal with that are still using Hotmail or Yahoo for their mail.  Sure, I believe life would be better if they just adopted Gmail already, but, it might also mean they they are adopting another social network, as superior as it might be.

Point?  Facebook.

So, that’s my take.  I could be wrong.  But, I think Google Plus poised to make a big mark in educational technology.  It has a lot going for it.

That is all.

Published by Jason Neiffer