We launched a Google Apps domain for our school with the promise that it would offer more value than using personal Google Apps accounts. In reality, some apps offer terrific collaboration features for domain users, and some apps operate no differently from personal accounts.
Docs has the most powerful network features. It is fully group-aware: share a doc with a group, and the system sends each user a group invitation. Edits are marked with usernames in real time. Revisions show who wrote what. Group members can participate in chat and discussions about the document. One may share a collection just once and then place documents within it, rather than sharing each document separately. One may also make a document available to everyone at one’s school but not visible to the world.
Administrators may assign Chat privileges to different organizational units in the domain. Authentication appears to work, and directory search will find people within one’s organization. Otherwise, there’s not much to report here for this one-to-one communication tool.
Calendar: – - -
According to Google’s documentation(1, 2, 3), one can easily share a calendar with a contact group, organizational group, or Google Group. The only problem is that email notifications for group sharing do not work, meaning that you actually have to send your group members instructions to manually add an incredibly long calendar email address to their calendars list. Do you think that all group members will do it? Me, neither. This problem is acknowledged on Google’s “known issues” page.
Video may contain group sharing features, but it does not much matter, because only faculty and staff may upload video, the number of uploaders is limited to 100, and an administrator needs to individually specify who can upload. Go figure. Video staff should go talk to the people who own YouTube.
Sites: + +
Sites gets high marks for network features: you can make a site private, share with a network group for presentation or collaborative editing, publish it to the school community, or make it public. School users can browse sites made available to everyone at the school, but most sites end up in “uncategorized.” The most serious limitation is the Sites tool itself, whose editing features and templates feel dated compared to other freely available tools.
Blogger: + +
Better blogging systems exist, but none have such easily usable network group features as Blogger. One user can create multiple blogs without administrator assistance and invite others as contributors to create a group blog. The blog owner can limit the visibility of the blog to the authors or to specific people or groups. The group selection tool is itself not network group aware, but click “select from contacts” to gain access to network groups.
Maps: + + +
This should be a big winner in schools. Maps is a multimedia authoring environment. Click on a placemark, and you get a mini WYSIWYG editor that can insert text, links, and photos. Maps supports group features, so you can share a group with others for the purpose of presentation or collaboration. Combine these two feature sets, and you get a powerful geographic multimedia authoring tool for your class. Maps distributes sharing privileges by URL, which is not technically full network group support but is still functionally sound.
YouTube: – - -
YouTube is hardly integrated with Google Apps for Education at all. YouTube requires a dedicated username linked to one’s Google account — you cannot just log in with your domain credentials. Once you are logged in, YouTube in an education domain functions just like an individual YouTube account. I was hoping for network-specific features such as listing favorite videos within our school and collaborative playlists.
Reader: - -
Items you add to Reader are private by default. You can mark specific items “shared.” It is easy to share items publicly, difficult to share items with built-in Google Contacts groups, and very difficult to share with network groups.
Bookmarks: – !
Google Bookmarks appears to be network group aware. Items you bookmark are private by default, but you can create lists and then share them with individuals, your own groups, or school network groups. You can even grant editing privileges so that others may add to shared bookmark lists.
The only problem is that the group sharing feature appears to be broken! Share with a network group email address, and you get the following error. You cannot even share with custom groups in your contacts list. Is this feature finished?
If this works, the bookmarks feature may become a better tool for documenting research sources than we have had before. Students could create bookmark lists and share them with teachers to assess their progress. A class could build a list of shared resources together for a research unit. Teachers could set up shared lists with each other for professional development purposes. A school could build shared lists of resources together. The only feature missing is a way to search all of the shared bookmarks within the organization. Wouldn’t it be great if students first searched the school’s bookmark collection rather than heading straight to Google search?
Picasa Web Albums: + + +
Picasa offers working network features very similar to those in Bookmarks. One can set up a photo album and open it to others for the purpose of sharing or contribution. The only downer there is the 100 photo limit on each album. I also wish that one could conduct a search restricted to the photos shared within an organization.
What else have you learned about group sharing in Google Apps? Is any of this information inaccurate or outdated? Please leave a comment below.