There are a lot of great posts on why Twitter and blogging are two excellent forms of social media, and why academics– including scientists– should do outreach (I like this series of posts by Christie Wilcox). While outreach is great, there are some very selfish reasons to use social media tools for collaboration and productivity. I’ve recently been turned on to Google +.* If you haven’t had a chance to explore (especially recently), I urge you to check it out. It’s more– much more– than Google’s answer to Facebook, and Hangouts are more– much more– than Google’s answer to Skype.
If you have a Google account (Gmail, Google Drive, etc.) you can quickly transform that into a Google Plus (aka G+) account. Once you have that, you can use Google’s various features like Drive (formerly Docs, et al.) and Calendar in a nicely integrated platform with the social networking half of the package, G+. In fact, I’d argue that even if you don’t think you need another social media platform, it’s still worth joining G+ for the cool features like communities and hangouts.
I’m a postdoc at Brown, but I have potential collaborators all over the world (many I’ve met through other social media outlets like Twitter). We don’t get to interact as much as I’d like, which is a bummer. Additionally, there aren’t many paleoecologists where I work. Basically, G+ can act as a sort of virtual journal club or lab meeting, allowing me to have meaningful and productive interactions with long-distance colleagues that are easy, effective, and– best of all– free. Here are some examples:
1) Journal clubs. What’s so very cool about G+ hangouts (versus Skype) is that they can accommodate up to ten people at once for free, and others can watch from the sidelines. Use this feature to generate your own virtual journal club (make sure you advertise on Twitter for maximum social media effectiveness). This is especially useful for folks who might be the only scientist of their kind at a small institution, people on sabbatical, people on ma/paternity leave, or folks who are otherwise feeling a bit isolated. Some evolutionary biologists have already done this, to great effect.
2) Podcasts. Another great feature of G+ hangouts is the ability to record a conversation (either through Google or a third party), for use as an interview or a discussion in a podcast; you can save it automatically as a YouTube video afterwards. This is really useful for low-budget podcasting. You can also go “on air” and broadcast the live event well beyond the ten-person limit in the hangout. Check out Breaking Bio for a great example.
3) Collaboration. Create a private “community” with collaborators, and schedule your meetings using G+ hangouts instead of Skype calls or conference calls. Why? Well, first, I’ve found that G+ hangouts tend to be higher-quality and less buggy that Skype. Secondly, Hangouts have very cool integrated app features, including the ability to work collaboratively on Google Drive documents during the Hangout. Yeah, you read that right. You can also use a virtual whiteboard app like Cacoo to collaboratively draw out your ideas or workflow. The Symphonical app allows you to create tasks, use virtual sticky notes, or other get-’er-done tools for task management. You can even reward particularly good ideas with applause sound effects using Google Effects.
4) Writing accountability. Having writing partners–accountability– increases your productivity, whether you’re finishing your PhD or submitting your fifth grant as a tenured faculty. Use G+ Hangouts to start a writing accountability group. Set tasks in a shared Drive document and track your progress. Meet biweekly and commiserate. Share your work-in-progress via Drive, and get feedback. Give yourself a crown with Google Effects when you get a paper accepted.
5) Presentations. Start a Hangout and share your screen, like in Skype, or use SlideShare to give a practice presentation to colleagues from afar. This feature could easily be used for a number of other applications, like giving online tutorials (shared On Air, which you would then save as a YouTube video for posterity). Or how about a public dissertation defense?
6) Virtual office hours. (Thanks to @DrRubidium for this idea!) If you teach an online course, want to be accessible to students who may have schedule conflicts, or hold office hours while you’re away or working at home, you can use a G+ hangout. You can upload an assignment to go over in Google Drive, or sketch out a tricky diagram. You can even create a special Community for your classroom, and store important documents, lecture slides, or YouTube videos of past lectures.
Do you use Google + Hangouts as a tool for academic success? Did I leave anything out? What are you thinking of trying? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments, or add me on Google +. Edit: Also, see this great blog post by Jason Goldman, when G+ first launched. And see this series and conversation by Google developer Ronnie Bincer on G+ Hangouts for collaboration and presentations.
*Lots of folks have valid criticisms of Google, which I won’t go into here. The purpose of this post is to share some ways in which Google– and specifically Google + Hangouts– can help you with tasks that thus far there are no other effective online alternatives for.