Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 4)

Continuing on in this series of posts, I’ve now been considering the option of securely sharing content from any of your computers to any other. In addition you can share content to other people. This gets away from the idea of mounting the content on additional NAS; though you might want to use the two approaches in conjunction.

For this I’ve been looking at GBridge (PC only). GBridge uses GTalk, so you must have signed up for a Google Account. With GBridge you can access all your own computers using ‘SecureShare’. You can also use this to share with friends or colleagues. You can use the ‘AutoSync’ function to transfer large files and synchronize folders; ‘EasyBackup’ to auto backup important folders. In addition you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to allow you to access your desktop remotely or, when given consent and both using GBridge, access someone elses desktop (perhaps to remotely resolve a problem).

Importantly GBridge has Google Apps support, so it can be installed as an additional App to a Google Apps setup and all your users instantly have a free VPN and access to all this additional functionality. For a university some of this functionality might be being provided using other, expensive software. In this setting, GBridge could allow for easier on and off campus working, greater collaborative working, easier (and cheaper) remote help, and secure ‘video chat’ functionality.

See GBridge in action thanks to this Britec09 YouTube video:

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Socialwok via Google Apps

I’m currently looking into the Apps available from the Marketplace for a Google Apps for Education installation. One area of particular interest is social collaboration. If, for example, you are running a dedicated social collaboration enterprise solution that is good but expensive, is there a viable cheaper alternative through Google Apps?

Well, I think there is a serious contender and it’s called Socialwok.

Some people call Socialwok – Facebook for business on Google Apps

If you think about it, Google Apps is a loose collection of Apps. Socialwok does an amazing job of tying this collection together and enables you to see all the activity across the Apps, be that Calendar, Google Docs, Activities, etc. Content can be kept private to a company/university/school, with restricted access to specific groups via the ‘feeds’ arrangement within Socialwok. However, it’s also possible to publish to Socialwok while simultaneously publishing out to Google Buzz, Twitter, and Facebook; a time saver and potentially great publicity mechanism. Also external collaborators can be granted access to a specific Socialwok feed, something that I know is required.

The personnel at Socialwok are technically very impressive and rather astute business-wise, which is always a plus point when considering longevity in today’s world of technological winners and those that fall along the wayside. I think this video by Robert Scobles (Scobleizer) from Google I/O 2010 Conference in which he asks Is Socialwok the best of the collaborative enterprise social services? demonstrates both these aspects.

Another innovation with Socialwok is the integration with Seesmic to create a desktop facility (read the Seesmic blog post) to monitor and contribute to your ‘corporate business activities’, or ‘course studies’ in an educational setting, alongside maintaining your PLN of contacts via Twitter and Facebook. This is bringing Google Apps to the Desktop in a full featured client, with real-time social search and relevance ranking functionality. This integration is a point of pure business genius, and is highly significant, which I have to applaud.

My interest is in educational uses. When it comes to appealing to students and encouraging them to work with social collaboration media, the fact that the environment has a ‘look & feel’ of something they are already used to has distinct advantages.

Of course you might need to hammer home the differences in the philosophy underlying each. Something I wrote previously on the subject:

[Facebook/MySpace/etc] is out there, it’s open, just do what you do in there. The [university/college/school] collaboration environment is something different; it’s not trying to be [Facebook/MySpace/etc], and it’s certainly not trying to compete with [Facebook/MySpace/etc]. Our collaboration environment is more akin to a professional environment you might see within companies when you’ve graduated [uni/college/school], or a social network relating to a particular area of professional interest (an international science social network for example).

The [uni/college/school] has provided our environment as a secure place, where you can work through your ideas, collaborate with others, develop an understanding of how to participate in a professional manner, with the assurance that your work is secure and that your ideas remain just that belonging to you and the [uni/college/school]. The loss of your Intellectual Property is a consideration if you use openly available tools and environments hosted elsewhere. Put more simply, if you put your work or your ideas somewhere on the web, you might just have given those ideas away (the chances are you won’t have checked the small print).

By developing the additional skills that using such a tool can enable, you can demonstrate to future employers your ability to work professionally within a collaborative environment.

There are probably particular benefits to using the environment for researchers, with respect to Intellectual Property and the ability to work and share with external colleagues, partners and collaborators from anywhere in the world.

I’m rather interested by Socialwok and I need to investigate more fully its potential for educational use with colleagues.

Google Docs on Android

So I’ve been playing with and liking Swype. I’ve set up a quick WordPress blog and installed the WordPress App so I can quickly write notes and post a blog without much effort. Not so much microblogging as miniblogging.

What I also thought I’d be able to do was to edit Google Docs directly from my phone. That’s what I thought, but I was wrong. It turned out Android isn’t set up to do that. But there is an App called GDocs that is supposed to help out with this and allow you to edit your Docs. However, again my experiment was dashed by problems as GDocs doesn’t seem to work on the HTC Desire. Whilst I could download documents to the App on the phone and edit, the upload didn’t work as it should. So the search goes on. Hopefully there’ll be a solution; possibly the next upgrade on GDocs will do the job, or maybe Google will release a solution before too long. Fingers crossed.

Google Apps

I came across a couple of useful things today relating to Google Apps.

The first is a student perspective on the ease of use of Google Apps for her course. She is very articulate and succinct in her responses, and shows a mastery of her digital environment.

If school children are demonstrating this level of knowledge, understanding and proficiency in using Google Apps then it seems out of step to be providing anything proprietory at university, particularly if it offers less functionality and required students then learning an unfamiliar environment that they won’t use again after graduation.

A teacher also talks about her use of Google Apps for her classes.

As a supplement to the above, there are some resources available at Google Tools for Educators including links to some useful videos.