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An invitation to Google+ by Daniel Spielmann
(C) Google

(C) Google

Today’s post by +Daniel Spielmann invites you to find out if Google+ could be a useful addition to your Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and provides some tips to get you started. Daniel is a PhD student at the University of Hamburg, Germany, focussing on the use of ePortfolio in the training of peer writing tutors. He is interested in academic writing and digital literacies and in the connection of both.

It is November, the month of #acwrimo and #digiwrimo. Many academics engage in digital writing using Twitter and writing personal blogs but in this post I explain why I am one of a growing number of Google+ users and why I think, for many academics, it is worth checking out, especially if you haven’t given it a try yet.

What is G+ and why is it different to Twitter?

“Personally, I love G+ because people I’m connecting with here help me be ‘who I want to be’ – and faster than I could possibly do on my own.” (+Meri Walker)

On Sept. 20th I took part in the PhD2published Twitter live chat on academic tweeting where I mentioned some of the issues I have with Twitter and compared it to Google+. Some of you may not have heard of G+ or even realize its potential for academic writing and networking.

Well, G+ offers a set of joint services which foster interaction. You can share text messages and comments which – different to Twitter – are not restricted to 140 characters, which allows for a much more natural flow of communication; however, some people interpret the character limit on Twitter as beneficial, because it supposedly forces you to be very precise about your message. For me, that’s not enough. Sometimes there is a fine line between “concise” and “truncated”. Is everything exceeding 140 characters just “intellectual ‘baggage'” as @markhawker / +Mark Hawker tweeted with a smile during the aforementioned chat, or is it rather that not until we cross restrictions like the one imposed on us on Twitter that research and academia become most interesting? How important is the 140 character limit to you?

Another G+ property is that discussions are easier to keep track of, because they are not all over the place as they are on Twitter; following longer discussions is much more convenient and, in fact, from a user perspective the platform seems far more conducive to focussed discussion, rendering it a solid tool for academic exchange.

The observations mentioned – the absence of a character limit and the more traceable organization of conversations – may contribute to the fact that communication on G+ is often perceived as more lively and yielding than on other networks (although you can cross-post from G+ to Twitter, you should keep in mind the two different types of network you are feeding, see also d) below).

When you share pictures or videos on G+ your readers will see them directly in their stream, not just a link to them. Links are not subtracted from your character limit because there is none. Sharing and linking are therefore much more fun, which makes me think G+ is also of great service to the practical application of the “Power Law of Participation” in which Mayfield describes the stages that lead us from a collective intelligence to a collaborative one.

Furthermore, with G+ Hangouts real time video conferences with up to ten people are as easy as pie. The integration of Google Drive (and other Google services, for that matter) allows you to work with others on the same document while ‘hanging out’, which makes it a great tool for collaborative digital text creation as in online writing groups or multi-author writing projects, for example. How can we harvest this potential for #acwrimo and the time after?

Here are some tips to get you started on G+:

a) Build your personal profile. Ask yourself: Why are you on G+ and what do you hope to gain from it? What people do you want to get in touch with and what should they know about you? Fill your profile with information about what you do and what your interests are, don’t leave it blank.

b) Simple but effective: Use the G+ search box to find people and content that match your professional interests. Be creative about search terms, explore.

c) Think about circle management. On G+ you group people you follow into different circles. The circle feature allows you to be very specific about what information you share with whom and it is also very helpful in improving the quality of your G+ stream. Circles will need some time to get used to, but once you discover the potential, you’ll surely get the hang of it. This video helps you get started with circles. I also shared two posts on G+ (1, 2) to help your thinking about circles.

c) Don’t just share any content, share interesting content that fits the professional profile you aim to create of yourself.

d) Don’t just share and be done with it – when try to give it a personal touch by commenting / giving your opinion on what you are sharing. Your readers wonder: What do you think about what you are sharing? Letting people know gives you a much bigger chance of inspiring feedback. Including your personal opinion in your share will also help you to tie your thoughts together when you browse your own stream a few months down the line.

e) Make your postings interesting, show you care about others’ opinions, ask questions.

f) Improve your posts’ readability through structure and use the formatting options in G+: a “_” in front and at the end of a line of text will set everything in between in italics, “*” gives you boldface and “-” strikethrough.

g) You can mention other plussers by typing “+” followed by the name of the plusser you want to refer to. That way, this person will be notified that he or she has been mentioned.

h) Interact with people on their posts, say thanks, leave comments. G+ is not about reading, it’s about interacting. Be positive and inspiring.

It works, if you let it.

Now, after about 16 months with G+, I honestly believe something would be missing if the service were gone for good. Every time I look at my stream, I learn. G+ is what I recommend to social media reluctant colleagues who show the willingness to try at least one single network. It would also have been the ideal tool to have used two years ago when I taught a core seminar on autonomous learning. I promoted the use of Google Wave instead which did serve a purpose pre-G+.

As with any other social network, you have to be active if you want to be able to judge the benefits. No matter if we are talking Facebook, Twitter or G+, you have to engage with others in order to build a network that reliably supplies you with meaningful information. For me, G+ does that in a less stressful manner than other networks. And as with any other network, engagement takes some time; trust is not built in a day. So if you want to give it a try, be serious about it, because the bottom line is: You yourself decide what you get to see in your stream – valuable information or just the ordinary distractions.

For some examples on how G+ connects people, have a look at this posting by +Andrew Baron with lots of thoughts about the use of G+ or  +Melony Ritter inviting support for her 1st grade class learning about geography. If you are a speaker of German, +Stephanie Dreyfuerst’s post could be a good place to post your first G+-comment. Or why not add a G+ post about #acwrimo yourself? What differences do you encounter when sharing your #acwrimo word counts, excerpts, writing prompts, habits, projects, feedback and motivation on G+? What are possible G+ benefits for #acwrimo? Just use the Twitter hashtag in your G+ postings and let’s get the discussions going. The opportunities for interaction on G+ are certainly there for the taking!