In Beta and sunsetting consumer Google+

Action 1: We are shutting down Google+ for consumers.

This review crystallized what we’ve known for a while: that while our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Google+ wasn’t a big hit although I am surprised that they’ve taken the step to shut it down for consumers. And this is the problem with online communities in general; when the decision is made that they’re not cost-effective, they’re shut down regardless of the value they create for community members.

When Ben and I started In Beta last year we decided to use Google+ for our community announcements and have been pretty happy with what we’ve been able to achieve with it. The community has grown to almost 100 members and, while we don’t see much engagement or interaction, that’s not why we started using it. For us, it was to make announcements about planning for upcoming episodes and since we didn’t have a dedicated online space, it made sense to use something that already existed. Now that Google+ is being sunsetted we’ll need to figure out another place to set up the community.


AI at Google: Our principles

  1. Be socially beneficial
  2. Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias
  3. Be built and tested for safety
  4. Be accountable to people
  5. Incorporate privacy design principles
  6. Uphold high standards of scientific excellence
  7. Be made available for uses that accord with these principles

Source: AI at Google: Our principles

This list isn’t a bad start if you’re looking for guidance when it comes to AI systems development, and it’s a pretty good substitute for what is currently lacking in the development of healthcare AI. For example, you could easily map these principles onto the Principle ethics (beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, autonomy), which many consider to be the cornerstone of professional ethical practice.

Note: You could argue that this is a self-serving list, published to support Google’s position as a company committed to doing the Right Thing (since “Don’t be evil” was removed from their code of conduct). However, Google’s recent decision not to renew a lucrative contract with the Pentagon says a lot about their willingness to at least try and uphold their position. Regardless, even taking the list at face value is a useful approach to thinking about how to develop AI-based systems.

We’re all in beta

I was talking to Ben Ellis (@bendotellis) from Oxford Brookes University at the ER-WCPT conference in Liverpool last year and bemoaning the fact that the most interesting conversations – for me anyway – were happening outside of the sessions. This is probably not news for anyone who’s gone to more than a few conferences. We started chatting about how we could take the things “that work” from conferences e.g. sharing ideas, and removing the things that “don’t work” e.g. a few people talking at other people for 10 minutes at a time.

We’ve been toying with a few different options – influenced by unconferences and teachmeets – but always trying to keep the following broad principles around the format in focus:

  • Broad perspectives. Encourage input from a wide variety of expertise, rather than have the “expert” talk to everyone else.
  • Collaborative. Obviously.
  • Multiple activities. The session should include presenting, writing, and discussion, all around an artifact of some sort.
  • Preparation. We wanted the presenter to bring something to the discussion in the form of an idea that the conversation would centre on.

We’ve decided that a Google+ community seems to have the basic features we need to implement the principles described above. We also wanted to reinforce the idea that we’re all constantly learning how to do things better, and that it makes sense to learn from each other. It seems likely that the things we want to do in our classrooms have been done, in some form, somewhere else. And there’s no need to wait until the next conference and hope that your abstract gets accepted. As Ben said in his post on the project:

The idea of In Beta is for physiotherapy educators to bring a teaching and learning idea that they have been working on themselves or with colleagues within their institution to a group of peers in order to spark discussion, feedback and collaboration to improve and develop the original idea prior to releasing it into the classroom or clinic.

In essence, we want to use this space to encourage physio educators to experiment on their own approaches to teaching and learning practices. We have a basic structure for each session, which may change as we experiment with the format:

  1. Members of the In Beta community share an idea for a change in their teaching and learning practice.
  2. Community members choose a topic on a monthly basis, and help the person who submitted the topic develop the idea for presentation.
  3. The presenter shares their idea with the community, probably in a formal presentation (e.g. slideshow), but could equally be something different (e.g. collection of Pinterest images).
  4. There is a discussion around the idea where everyone gets to share their ideas and suggestions for improvement.
  5. During this process, the original submission is open for editing, so the community members present in the session are able to comment, make suggestions, share resources, generate a reading list, etc.
  6. We encourage those who presented to share their experiences back into the community following implementation of the idea.
  7. Finally, we hope that the process generates a collection of shared resources and ideas for other community members who may be interested in similar contexts.

Anyone with an interest in any aspect of physiotherapy education (clinical or practice-based educators as well as academics) can join the Google+ community for In Beta (Google account required).

The first In Beta session will be at 2pm (UK) on Wednesday 19th July 2017. The topic is teaching long term condition management and the background and outline of the teaching idea is available via the In Beta Google+ community. Thanks to Ben for taking the plunge and offering to be the guinea pig in this experiment.

Remember, it’s not defective. It’s in beta.

I enjoyed reading (April)


Sudden site shutdowns and the perils of living our lives online (John Paul Titlow): When Google decided to shut down Reader and made the announcement a few weeks ago, this really made me think carefully about what I do online, and where I decide to do it. Obviously there’s incredible convenience in having someone else host all your stuff, whether it’s on Facebook, Google+ or any other service. They have beautiful user interfaces (sometimes), great sharing features and they are responsible for maintaining the site. But when they decide to close up shop, for whatever reason, there goes all your data. The more I think about it, the more I want to move my online profiles into my own online space.
Guns want to be free: what happens when 3D printing and crypto-anarchy collide? (Joshua Kopstein):

I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolise the use of force.

I’m not sure yet if this is a good thing or a bad thing. However, right now, it is a thing that we need to think about. The idea of printing weapons is definitely something that needs discussion, but we should also remember that we’ll be able to print other things too, like furniture, utensils, spare parts for devices, etc. The creative force that this will unleash is going to change society, especially when this technology is widely available. One day, 3D printers will be built into your home and will just be a normal part of your consumer experience (see Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age).


The Mendeley – Elsevier frenzy: I’m not going to summarise the discussion, just wanted to point out a few posts I found thought-provoking. It is interesting to note that a few weeks after the initial announcement, everything died down and the internet has moved on. I wonder how many of those indignant academics actually deleted their accounts? The links below are the posts that I thought were more considered and less irrational and emotional.


Network-enabled research (Cameron Neylon):

Suddenly there is the possibility of coordination, of distribution of tasks that was simply not possible before. The internet simply does this better than any other network we have ever had. It is better for a range of reasons but they key ones are: its immense scale – connecting more people, and now machines than any previous network; its connectivity – the internet is incredibly densely connected, essentially enabling any computer to speak to any other computer globally; its lack of friction – transfer of information is very low cost, essentially zero compared to previous technologies, and is very very easy.


Teaching as a subversive activity (Rick Snell): This is not a link to the book itself but a summary of the main concepts. I’ve been wanting to read Teaching as a subversive activity for ages, but still haven’t gotten around to it.

…once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have leaned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.

Using Google Translate for international projects


In preparation for the FAIMER residential session in Brazil, the coordinators spent months sharing documentation and ideas, and discussing every detail that goes into planning something like this…and they’ve been doing it in Portuguese. Initially I thought that this would mean I’d have no idea what was going on until I got there, but then I remembered that Google Translate is integrated into most, if not all of Google’s products and thought I’d see what was possible to follow in the planning process.

Google Groups and Gmail have built in translation services, which mean that whenever a message gets posted in a language that’s different to your default, Google offers to translate the page. And not only that, it offers to translate it every time you get a new message. Now, the translation isn’t perfect and the service will help you to understand the general content and context of a message but is not always accurate. Some words are not translated and some look like gibberish (this is probably because of how Google does the translation). But, as I say, it’s close enough to be very useful.

So that’s fine for Gmail in the browser but I also use Thunderbird as an offline mail client, which doesn’t have built-in translation. Luckily it supports extensions and I managed to find one that uses Google’s translation API, which I use to translate my offline messages as well.

So far so good. But what about documents and spreadsheets? With almost every email that came through there was an attached Word document or spreadsheet. Using Translate in Google Docs was easy enough. After opening the Word document in Drive, click on the Tools menu item and choose “Translate document” in the dropdown.

Sheets was bit trickier, requiring me to dig around for a bit in the scripts menu. However, once I figured out the process, it was simple enough to do it every time I needed to translate a document. Note that these instructions will become obsolete when Google changes how Sheets work, and that this process is assuming that you have a local spreadsheet you want to translate.

  1. Go to
  2. Click on the red icon with the “up” arrow to upload the spreadsheet
  3. Open the spreadsheet in Google Drive
  4. Click on Tools -> Script Gallery, and enter “translate” in the search box
  5. Install the “Translate sheet – any to English” script
  6. Click on Tools -> Script Manager, and Run both options
  7. There will now be a new menu item called Script
  8. After uploading new documents, you can click on Script -> Translate, and it will convert the document into English

For all of Google’s translation services, it’s important to remember that it’s not perfect, and will take some time before it’s seamless. The translation sometimes read as if it’s been done word-for-word without taking grammar into account, which means that while you can figure out what is being discussed, the conversation doesn’t flow naturally.

Besides becoming more familiar with Google Translate, there were few other things that I learned from this experience:

  1. Not everyone speaks English. Now, I obviously knew this on a cognitive level but when everyone around me speaks my own language all the time, I don’t really think about it.
  2. As more and more people use Google’s translation and voice services, their API is going to keep getting better, until eventually real-time translation with a decent Internet connection will be commonplace. Soon enough, we’ll get to a point where language isn’t a barrier to learning and commerce the way it is now. You’ll speak and write your language, and I’ll receive the message in mine – the translation will happen in real time.
  3. Understanding language is different to understanding culture. Just because I can understand what you’re writing doesn’t mean I’ll understand how you’re thinking.

Finally, I’ve just agreed to supervise a student from Libya who will be doing his Masters thesis in physiotherapy in my department. I’m interested to see if integrating his workflow into Google’s services and apps will help us to work together. Stay tuned.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-04-16

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-12-05

  • @dgachago17 it was a wonderful week, i learned so much from everyone I spoke to, must chat about collab project #
  • @LenSteenkamp Staying at the Beach Hotel, SAA paying for everything, so thats not too bad. Was just a disappointing end #
  • Flight home canceled, spending another night in PE. A bit pissed off with #SAA for stuffing up what had been a good week at #heltasa11 #
  • #pencilchat on Twitter has been a lot of fun. Thank you everyone for making the point in a way that I can only describe as delightful 🙂 #
  • RT @timbuckteeth What if the students break them? They won’t be able to write! #pencilchat #
  • RT @philipgreen #pencilchat Give me a pencil and a place to stand, and I could move the world #
  • RT @timbuckteeth Pencils will dumb down education. Keep the oral traditions alive! #pencilchat #
  • #pencilchat Just bought an accessory to look flash in meetings – a pencil grip – boss is asking where I got it #
  • RT @sangsterphil: Students at our school spend more time customising their pencils than writing with them #pencilchat #
  • RT @GuyJudge: @timbuckteeth Pencils criticized in plagiarism study. They make it too easy to copy. #pencilchat #
  • RT @GuyJudge: Don’t press down too hard when you use a pencil as you may leave an imprint that other people can read #pencilchat #
  • RT @johnmayo: I sure hope someone is going to use all these #pencilchat tweets in a presentation at some stage What about copyright? All CC? #
  • RT @GrahamBM: We have found that 1:3 pencil sharing has improved learner collaboration #pencilchat #
  • @timbuckteeth Poets among early pencil adopters. Now even builders use them. #pencilchat #
  • RT @HeidiSiwak: Pencils: anywhere, anyone, anytime on anything writing! The future is now! #pencilchat #
  • RT @briankotts: There is no evidence that the pencil makes learning faster, easier or better. #pencilchat #
  • RT @aangeli: RT @dughall: 2B or not 2B? That is the question. #pencilchat #
  • RT @noblerod: #pencilchat privacy concerns arise when students discovered using pencils to record friend’s antics during lunch #
  • @sandynay sorry, #
  • RT @heidisiwak: RT @mgraffin: Check out the #pencilchat trend map 🙂… #
  • RT @wholeboxndice: RT @delta_dc: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Give him a pencil and he can draw a fish. #pencilchat #
  • #pencilchat is what Twitter was invented for #
  • RT @johntspencer: Violent games do not lead to violent people. I played hang man numerous times and I’ve never hung anyone. #pencilchat #
  • RT @edutechhannah: I’ve doubled my productivity by sharpening both ends #pencilchat #
  • RT @ekendriss: RT @pammoran: Can pencil immigrants teach pencil natives? #pencilchat #
  • RT @ekendriss: RT @bhsprincipal: Pencils are always broken. They never work when I need them. #pencilchat #
  • RT @raventech: Anyone know if the added weight of an external eraser slows down todays graphite pencils? Concerned re. mobility #pencilchat #
  • RT @ronhoutman: @timbuckteeth If you didn’t grow up with pencils, then you will find them too hard to learn how to use. #pencilchat #
  • RT @webenglishteach: If we start using pencils, when will the kids learn keyboarding or the value of different fonts? #pencilchat #
  • RT @erinneo: refuse to use pencils in my classroom until manufacturers figure out a way 2 limit what [they] can write with them #pencilchat #
  • RT @vghathaway: RT @timstirrup: have you seen the things kids write about each other using pencils? this just HAS to stop! #pencilchat #
  • RT @heidisiwak: My school is adopting pencils but going to keep them in 1 room, each class allowed 40 minutes a week to use them #pencilchat #
  • RT @edutechhannah: Just spotted a student ‘doodling’ with one in class. Surely this will just become another distraction? #pencilchat #
  • RT @rebeccaradics: RT @Justgosailing: We are preparing students for pencils that have not yet been made. #shifthappens #pencilchat #
  • RT @tmartinowen: Time to drop pencils out of helicopters on all villages -one pencil per child #pencilchat #
  • RT @timbuckteeth: I’m resisting pencils at present. If I adopt them, I’ll have to change the way I teach. #pencilchat #
  • RT @heidisiwak: RT @markuos: #pencilchat Apparently you can use one ‘pencil dock’ at the front of the class to keep 30 pencils updated #
  • RT @dgree132: #pencilchat I’m worried about my son, he sits writing or drawing by himself for long periods of time. I think he’s addicted. #
  • RT @johnmayo: Data recovery for erased data with a pencil is very difficult #pencildata #
  • Apple marketing appeals to emotion, not features. That’s why everyone loves them. You need to switch off your heart to be immune #heltasa11 #
  • I hate it when marketers (esp. from #Apple push something without context i.e. iPad = good for education with no validation #heltasa11 #
  • @ronaldarendse To be fair, it’s only 1 person from #UCT who isn’t keen on sharing. I’m sure it’s not an institutional policy to censor 🙂 #
  • This “panel discussion” is actually a series of short presentations by 5 people. There’s no discussion happening? #heltasa11 #
  • @ronaldarendse Isn’t the point of coming to a conference to share practices so that we can all learn? What’s going on at #UCT #heltasa11 #
  • @ronaldarendse @LenSteenkamp So, attendance = success. Students say they attend. Therefore intervention = success? Mmm, seems shaky to me 🙂 #
  • @ronaldarendse What are you talking about, I’m in a great mood #
  • @ronaldarendse Maybe the student attendance figures were a minor component of the study. Was attendance relevant for the conclusions drawn? #
  • @ronaldarendse Sorry, let me help you…sarcasm = “The use of irony to mock or convey contempt” #
  • So far the panel discussion at #heltasa11 has been about (insecure) researchers trying to justify what they do. Am I missing something? #
  • @ronaldarendse There’s nothing wrong with basing conclusions on self-report. Students always tell me they “learn a lot” #heltasa11 #
  • @ronaldarendse Are you saying that the UCT presenter isn’t sharing? Sounds about right 🙂 #heltasa11 #
  • @ronaldarendse Always sets off alarm bells when someone tells me that I’m about to be amazed with something I’ve never heard before #
  • @ronaldarendse Never mind, it was meant for the moment, which you clearly missed 🙂 #
  • @ronaldarendse How can you not like this guy? #
  • Check out interesting way for students to present information in an online poster. Uses flash tho & no collaboration #
  • This looks like a useful tool for student collections of content around a topic? #
  • RT @alexisangelus: @LenSteenkamp Congratulations on ur 2011 Award in National Excellence in Teaching & Learning!!! Bravo! Bravo! #HELTASA11 #
  • RT @ronaldarendse: Prof Delia Marshall of the Faculty of Science wins the teaching and learning excellence award! #HELTASA11 #ProudlyUdubs #
  • RT @jackiesredpath: Big shout out to @LenSteenkamp! Congrats on winning the award! From Dine and the NWU ladies #HELTASA11 #
  • Daily Papert: should encourage a deeper understanding of technology, beyond searching for information and communication #
  • Congratulations to Prof Delia Marshal from #UWC on her T&L award at #heltasa11 #
  • @carinavr No problem, glad to know that someone else finds them a little bit useful #
  • @dgachago17 Cool, will stick with the Laurillard book for now, otherwise I’ll just end up with 20 that I never read #
  • @dgachago17 Any suggestions? Too much to browse, need to have specific things to look for #
  • @dgachago17 Just got the book you mentioned, thanks for pointing it out. Will have a look at it later #
  • Excellent presentation by @dgachago17 on the disruptive nature of emerging technologies #heltasa11 #
  • @LenSteenkamp not at all, it’s just semantics 🙂 #
  • @LenSteenkamp good point, but then you’re not replacing an LMS with G+, you’re talking about using Google as a platform #
  • @dgachago17 They’re not equivalent & therefore 1 can’t replace the other. U can’t use G+ for admin, & an LMS has little to do with learning #
  • @ronaldarendse Not saying that’s my opinion, but why would they say anything different? We need to decide if it’s a viable / useful tool #
  • @LenSteenkamp I think they have different functions. G+ is social / communication. LMS is about management #heltasa11 #
  • @lensteenkamp I use G+, never liked FB much. We use a WordPress/Buddypress social network for coursework, I don’t intrude on students’ SN #
  • @dgachago17 Google will say: “Use Google+ because it will fulfill all of your educational needs and it is a magical experience” 🙂 #
  • @dgachago17 Why wait for Google? What are we doing to promote it’s use? Are we even sure it has a use? #heltasa11 #
  • #heltasa11 day 2 is proving to be intellectually stimulating. Loving the presentations so far #
  • Naude: challenge students to imagine a future that doesn’t exist, then help them develop knowledge & skills to create it #heltasa11 #
  • 1st speaker of the day says using technology in teaching isn’t as good as a good lecturer. Clearly he’s missing the point #heltasa11 #
  • @RonaldArendse I think it is viable #
  • @vivboz some people think he’s a big name, judging from comments I’ve heard. Not my opinion #
  • @RonaldArendse sorry, typing mistake, just pointing out Jansens ignorance…or was it a lie 🙂 #
  • If students can pass without attending class, you have failed as a teacher. Best point of #heltasa11 so far #
  • @RonaldArendse Brian O’ Connell is a trained teacher. He’s not a VC though 🙂 #
  • @dgachago17 a bit caught up in his own story though #
  • @dgachago17 @RonaldArendse battery going to die soon, will see you around #
  • @dgachago17 first keynote presenter was a “big name” #heltasa11 #
  • @RonaldArendse Maybe because the wifi doesn’t work? Or maybe because it’s not interesting? #heltasa11 #
  • @RonaldArendse Try to find one take away message from each presentation. Agree that this could be a challenge 🙁 #
  • Thought we’d moved the conversation away from Prensky’s millenials? Why are we still talking about about how they’re “different”? #heltasa11 #
  • Interactive workshop on web-based clickers using cellphones with. Low cost approach for resource constrained environments #heltasa11 #
  • Everyone at #heltasa11 #heltasa – lets choose 1 hashtag for consistency. I vote for #heltasa11 Thoughts? #
  • I prefer “relationships” rather than “networks” #heltasa11 #
  • After Gutenberg learning was about “place”. After the 60’s it was about “technology”. Now it should be about “networks” #heltasa11 #
  • Disappointing keynote at #heltasa11 Too much “management”, not enough “learning” involved 🙁 #
  • Here’s a post on some of my thoughts on my PhD process. I’m not sure how (or even if I can) push posts from my blog… #
  • I’m at a meeting for a research project that is looking at the use of “emerging technologies” in higher education.… #
  • @mah_asf40 no problem, maybe next year. Come spend some time in cape town 🙂 #
  • @mah_asf40 it’s a conference for a group of south african educators to discuss approaches to teaching & learning in higher education #
  • @mah_asf40 it’s a higher education conference in Port Elizabeth #
  • Theoretical frameworks are just different ways of looking at the world. You can use different frameworks to look at… #
  • #heltasa11 begins tomorrow, anyone want to meet up? #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-18

  • Some beautiful photos from around Cape Town over the past few days (not mine) #
  • Amazing weekend at the #caperoyale hotel. Recommend it for any special occasions / celebrations. Friendly staff & great food. Thanks #
  • Beautiful day at Greenpoint Park, can’t believe what amazing weather we’re having #
  • Over 1 billion items shared every day on Google+ #
  • @GoodTasteMag loved the rib eye steak 🙂 Service was fantastic, really good experience #
  • @ShanLatimer sitting outside at #1800 in the middle of winter at the #caperoyale Cape Town is fantastic 🙂 #
  • View from the pool deck of the #caperoyale #
  • Staying at #caperoyale for the weekend, really impressed so far, great service ( #
  • On social networks: “If you’re not paying for it, then you are the product” #
  • Hey Google — being social is not an engineering problem #
  • Does Google+ solve the privacy problem or make it worse? #
  • Further Thoughts on Blogging Profs. #
  • Slow Academia « The Thesis Whisperer #
  • Learning with ‘e’s: Going the extra mile #
  • “Analytics” interventions « Gardner Writes Indictment of standardised testing #
  • Learning with ‘e’s: Going the extra mile Too nervous to try and step outside the box #
  • “People who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas” (Burt, 2005) via Anderson, ALT-C presentation #
  • “Relationships, more than information, determine how problems are solved or opportunities exploited.” (Looi, 2001) via Anderson, ALT-C prez #
  • Championing open access to research #
  • Applications for FAIMER / SAFRI Fellowships in 2012 now open at #

Posted to Diigo 07/06/2011

    • three forces at play when it comes to education and social media
    • first is a lack of force
    • second is the force of fear
    • third force is that of more and more educators who are embracing social media and advocating its use on- and off-campus – for student learning and for teacher professional development alike
    • a lot of potential with Google+: better student collaboration through Circles, opportunities for blended learning (a combination of offline and online instruction) with Hangouts, project research with Sparks, and easier school public relations with targeted photo-sharing, updates, and messaging
    • granular level of privacy afforded by Google+ that is the key to making this a successful tool for schools
    • while Twitter has been embraced by many educators – for both professional development and for back-channeling in the classroom – there’s still that “always public” element of Twitter that makes many nervous
    • sharing online isn’t simply about weighing privacy concerns; it’s also about sharing with the right people
    • many teachers are already talking about the possibility of not just face-to-face video conversation but the potential for integration of whiteboards, screen-sharing, Google Docs, and other collaborative tools

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-04-18