Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

We’ve all heard the phrase over and over again (at least I have): we live in an amazing time where anyone can start a business in a fraction of the time, and for a fraction of the cost, of what it used to take. But I didn’t really understand it until I did it myself with my two boys, aged 12 and 9.

Now you may be asking, “What does this have to do with social ed?”. Well, firstly, it’s about alternative out-of-school learning, and secondly, it’s about all the amazing free tools and information available from people and for-profit companies (ever heard of “Google”?) that make it possible.

Here’s our story…

While looking for ways to help my boys master their times tables, I stumbled on the site The site uses, pictures, stories and rhyme to help kids learn their times tables and we were blown away by how well it worked. After many attempts at mastery, my guys had their tables down in a weekend!

And we weren’t the only ones who thought the idea was great. Alan Walker, the guy who created the site,  made a book that sold over 50,000 copies.

So, with the “it’s easier than ever to start a business” mantra in our head, me and the boys starting thinking how we could create a book, using Walker’s technique, to help people learn something.

After racking our brains to find something that people needed help learning, like times tables, we decided to focus on spelling. We would create a book with stories and pictures that helped people learn to spell some of the most commonly misspelled English words.

Now, here’s the neat part…

Using a combination of free and very cheap tools like Google Sites, Paypal and ProjectLibre open source project management software, we went from idea to a full website, from which people can purchase a slimmed down pilot version of our book – in two weeks. Total cash outlay: $300 to pay a young, local artist to draw our first set of pictures.

Now, there are a number of things about this experience that have blown me away but I want to highlight just three:

1) How simple it is to create  a website with Google Sites;
2) How simple it is to set up a way for people to pay you using PayPal; and
3) How easy it is for you to teach your kids the entire process of creating a business in under a month.

Our website will go live some time in the summer and even if the book is a complete bomb, we’ve already succeeded on so many levels.



The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is going boldly where few Canadian school boards have gone before – into the Google cloud. According to the board, it’s implementing Google Apps for Education across all schools in the district.  They began with 12 pilot sites this year and are looking at full completion by the end of 2013.  Several Google-certified instructors on staff are key to the project’s success.

Here’s what Google says about Google Apps’ main products:

Gmail for education offers 7 GB of storage per user, powerful spam filtering, integrated voice/video conferencing, and 99.9% up time…all hosted by Google – with no cost, and no ads for students, faculty or staff.

Google Docs provides web-based documents, spreadsheets, drawings and presentations that let users edit the same file at the same time so you always have the latest version.

Google Calendar enables users to easily schedule meetings, share event calendars, and stay organized – no matter how busy their days are.

Google Groups allows users to set up their own mailing lists, and easily share docs, sites, and calendars with colleagues. Administrators can control memberships if desired, and connect Groups to [learning management] and [student information] systems.

Google Sites is an easy way to create web pages for intranets or class projects. You control what’s public, and what’s private. No coding or HTML required.

I’ve got a call in to the board to find out which apps they’re adopting but whatever they’re starting with, I applaud their innovation and risk-taking. I also applaud the fact they’re modeling how to kill two big birds with one stone: providing their students with collaborative cloud-based tools to extend their learning – and saving money. Google Apps are free.

Students are already familiar with Google because 99% of them already use one or more of their free products such as search, YouTube or Gmail. However, they use them because they help them do what they want to do – find stuff, watch videos – and they’re dead easy. The question is, will students see apps like Calendar, Docs, Groups and Sites in the same way?

Google Apps are tools. Collaboration is a behaviour. Using Gmail and sharing a video on YouTube are not collaborating. Students must see how collaboration can help them do what they want before they’ll care how Google Apps or any tool can help them collaborate.

I will be watching closely to see how the OCDSB meets this challenge.

I attended an event put on by Google last Wednesday titled Leading the Conversation with Canadians Online which was all about Google selling its wares to the federal government (and don’t get me wrong: I love what they’re selling). I have posted a complete summary of the event on Google Docs so want to focus here on two analytics tools that Google mentioned at the event: Google Analytics and Google Insights for Search. And I’ll admit up front that I’m just beginning to explore both tools so this post is mostly about getting lots of people to experiment and share.

Google Analytics is a very powerful tool that gives you a wealth of metrics that could fill up many more posts. Right now I’ll focus on its ability to tell you who’s coming to your site and from where. This includes breaking down traffic sources by search engine, keywords, referring sites (Web sites that sent people to yours), direct traffic (people who clicked a bookmark to come to your site or typed your site URL into their browser), and your Google AdWords campaigns (if you’re running any), among other sources. The results are all presented in easy to read graphs.

At the Google event they showed a graph that clearly showed what number of people visiting a particular site had “converted” by taking the action the Web site was designed to help them take (i.e. buying a product, downloading a white paper) or, if they didn’t convert, exactly where they dropped off in the journey from the homepage.

Google Insights for Search lets you compare search volume patterns for specific keywords across regions, categories (i.e. arts, business, health, sports and many more). That’s about all I know about it for now. You can get more from this post touching Google Insights by the always insightful (pardon the pun), Mike Kujawski of the Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Marketing.

I’ll post more as I play more with the tools and please do the same.

Here’s the agenda for this morning’s meeting on how federal government departments can use YouTube, put on by none other than Google:

Leading the Conversation
With Canadians Online

Using Google and YouTube to Develop a Digital Dialogue With Canadians

Learn how to control your message with Canadians online and drive interest and support for your
government program by leveraging the power of Google and YouTube advertising products and services. Please join us at our invitation-only event in Ottawa on February 3, 2010.

Our event agenda will include the following presentations:

Understanding how Canadians Research Government Information and Programs Online:
Learn from Google’s proprietary research study results and data trends

Keys to Success in the Obama Online Marketing Juggernaut:
A keynote presentation from Rich Mintz, VP, Strategy, Blue State Digital

Controlling and Monitoring Your Message Online Using Google Search and Analytics:
Discover best practices on how to best use these Google tools to target your message

Start an Ongoing Dialogue With Your Constituents Using YouTube and Google Display Advertising:
Hear case studies and learn how to use these tools to drive awareness and response

So Google released its competitor to the iPhone this week called the T-Mobile G1 and it’s going to change your life. How? Well, if you hadn’t already been thinking about adding mobile to your marketing communications mix you have to now.

The G1 is a lot like the IPhone but with some key differences. For one thing it’s got a full slide out keyboard which is a godsend for anyone who has tried to write anything longer than their name on the very frustrating iPhone touch keyboard. But the game changing difference is that it runs open source applications. That means anyone can write apps for it and make them available for download from anywhere. iPhone apps are tightly controlled by Apple who makes available only the ones they like and only through the often annoyingly proprietary iTunes.

According to, “the GI is available [to T-Mobile customers] in the US now and will available in the United Kingdom beginning in November, and across Europe in the first quarter of 2009. Countries include Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. The device will be available at select T-Mobile retail stores and online in the U.S. beginning Oct. 22, for a price of $179 with a two-year voice and data agreement.” $179 – that’s about 20 bucks less than the iPhone…

As the name implies the G1 is put out by T-Mobile USA, a Bellevue, Washington-based wireless carrier that, according to its website, “ is a national provider of wireless voice, messaging, and data services capable of reaching over 268 million Americans where they live, work, and play.”

No word on a Canadian G1 launch yet….

To get a good look at the G1 check out this YouTube video. Then pull out your marketing and communications plan and add a section called “mobile”.

One week ago, Google launched its new Google Chrome browser, but this post isn’t about the browser – it’s about the launch.

Google had artist, Scott McCloud, create a 38-page comic book peopled with drawings of actual Google employees explaining some very complex features. 


Google Chrome comic book image


And it worked.

There’s just something about cartoon characters that makes them interesting and the information they communicate accessible. In addition, having those characters be real Google employees gives the book a personal intimacy that makes the information all the more accessible.

The drawbacks to the book are:

* it’s visually boring with only black, white and different shades of blue

* it has no sound and, in this age of rich, audio visual web content, it comes off as too static.

That being said, it’s still one method to consider if you’re trying to communicate, say, complex parts of a science-based issue like the environment.

Could the carbon emissions trading or net neutrality comic books be far behind (if they’re not out there already)?