Thursday, December 20, 2012

Free and the stuff that disappears in the night

One of the biggest frustrations with Google stuff (tax issues aside!) is this sort of thing:

Winter cleaning | Official Google Blog: "On January 4, 2013, we’ll be shutting down several less popular Google Calendar features. You’ll be unable to create new reservable times on your Calendar through Appointment slots, but existing Appointment slots will continue working for one year. In addition, we’ll discontinue two Calendar Labs—Smart Rescheduler (we recommend Find a time view or Suggested times as alternatives) and Add gadget by URL. Finally, Check your calendar via sms and Create event via sms (GVENT)—U.S.-only features for creating and checking meetings by texting information to Google—will be discontinued today, as most users prefer mobile Calendar apps."

Now, I know that free comes at a price.  And I know that for every 'free' tool you use online you should have a back-up plan.  A little contingency thrown into the mix.  But if your job is to see a tool for its worth in a learning and teaching context... and promote / support the way in which is might be used... and the rug gets pulled on the feature or functionality that actually makes a difference to people... then, going Google can be a frustrating experience.

No point crying over disappearing free stuff...
I guess some of it is because they're always concentrating on their core stuff rather than the extra faffy, sometimes experimental stuff... but unfortunately, it's that stuff that can be most useful.  So far, they've culled Google Notebook - which I found brilliant for online research; they're culling Appointments - which are fantastic for organising those one-to-many relationships where a group of people need to speak to you one-to-one; Gadgets disappeared from spreadsheets; Google search timeline went and support for Picasa on anything other than Windows drastically reduced.  Am sure there are others, but it is a pain.

Using free stuff is one thing.  Depending on free stuff or imagining it'll never change is another.  Maybe it's a nudge to us to continually look at what we're using and whether that needs a tweak too.   But one thing's for sure.  Imagining that that 'essential' tool you've found online is going to be there for the foreseeable future is going to leave you with a very sad look on your face!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sarah,

    I can't tell anyone how frustrating and disappointing the loss of Appointments is.

    I started using Appointments to schedule student meetings over the last year, and my experience has been very positive. I've found that *far* more students book meetings if they can do it online (rather than the old method of signing a paper list on my office door!). And, what's more, the attendance rate increased massively, too: 90% of my personal tutees attended meetings this year, which is a record.

    Many of my colleagues have started using Appointments, too, including allowing students to book slots in their office hours, rather than just having to turn up and wait their turn. Their experience is that this has increased students' willingness to make use of office hours.

    Those of us that have found Appointments useful are slowly convincing colleagues to give them a try, and with a good degree of success. One problem with Google’s pulling the function too early – aside from the fact that they just haven’t given the feature enough time to be widely adopted – is that it makes it more difficult for the innovators amongst us to convince colleagues of the value of trying new things in future. Suggestions become just another craze for the geeks that won’t last five minutes!

    I think the following sentence in your post is interesting: "I guess some of it is because they're always concentrating on their core stuff rather than the extra faffy, sometimes experimental stuff..." Google Apps is now being used by different communities: individuals, charities, SMEs, corporates, and educators. Each of these communities has different wants and needs. If Google focuses its development on just the features you describe as core, then it can produce a product that does some of the things that all the communities want. To be truly successful, though, some consideration needs to be given to features that might be popular with significant subsets of users, like those of us using Apps in Education. Google needs to listen to what users in the different markets want and to accommodate those needs alongside developing core functionality that's used by everyone. Ignoring this fact reduces the usefulness of Google’s products and the willingness of users to rely on them. Imagine if Microsoft decided to remove Pivot Tables from Excel, for instance, because 90% of users don’t even know what they are!

    For what it's worth, I've raised this with Google and asked that they reconsider their decision on removing appointments. Their Jordan Pedraza is collating feedback and trying to put forward our case, so if any of your readers would like to share their thoughts, I'd urge them to contact Jordan through Google+ ( +Jordan Pedraza) or via Twitter (@JordanPedraza). I've used the hashtag #savegoogleappointments for this purpose.

    Gary

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