Monday, March 21, 2011

Google Growing Pains

There are quite a few people who aren't happy with Google right now. A lot of them are school administrators and teachers. The primary reason are the willy-nilly product updates that take everyone by surprise. The most recent example is the February 15 update to the Google Docs viewer. The backlash against the update reminds me of the crazy Facebookers who complain when Facebook updates their profile designs. The only major difference is that most people use Google Docs to things that are significant. Many of these complaints are well-warranted, especially for classroom teachers who have thousands of documents to sort through.

In Google's defense, they quickly responded to the outcry in several ways:
  1. Users can revert back to the old docs view with a single click (see screen shot at left). This feature will probably be phased out in the future. 
  2. Google launches "What New in Google Apps", a site that provides a central location for product update notifications. This is a great resource for system administrators and school technology specialists, allowing them to stay on top of future product updates.
  3. On Tuesday, March 22, 2011, Google will roll out an update to the updated Google Docs view. The updated will address some of the concerns from the original update. Google has already published a detailed user guide for the new interface which can be viewed here (PDF).
What does this situation say about Google's ability to attract schools and corporate customers to their cloud based platform? Apple is destroying all competition in their market because of the polish and finesse that underlies everything that they release. I wouldn't use the words "polish" or "finesse" to describe Google. There are still a lot of inconsistencies within Google Apps:
  • Gmail has labels, Docs has collections, Picasa has tags. Tags, folders, and collections do the same thing, but the terminology can be very confusing for new users.
  • Groups created within Gmail cannot be used to share documents, sites, calendars, etc. 
  • Inconsistent menus and toolbars.
While there are fairly minor issues that certainly wouldn't prevent me from encouraging schools or businesses to "Go  Google," they do  point to the need for Google to work towards a more cohesive design and inter-operability between their products, something I feel that they are currently working on.

While Google is going through some growing pains, Google Apps for Education continues to be the hot tool for schools around the country: Google sessions at various educational technology conferences I attend are always filled to capacity; I am regularly receiving emails and Tweets from educators around the country asking for assistance as their school or district migrates to Google; and the screen casts tutorials that I have posted on YouTube and iTunesU K-12 [iTunes link] continue to receive lots of views and downloads.

Google's "Beta" model has worked well in the past, but it may not now that there are corporate customers to please. Hopefully the complaints and hiccups won't deter Google from doing what they do best- engineering great products that help us communicate, connect, collaborate, and search. Just give us a little more advanced notice before you roll out the "next big thing."

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