Sunday, 16 December 2012

My experience of G+ as an academic

So Patrick Honner wrote a blog post about twitter for Math teachers. I thought I'd try and do something similar for G+.

DISCLAIMER: I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm in no way a social media expert and/or claim to have any better knowledge on this subject then anyone else. This post will most probably just turn in to a story about how I've used G+ over the past 18 months or so.


My General Philosophy

I've been on G+ for a while now and I'm a really big fan. I joined twitter and got an invite for G+ from an old pal about a month later. As I didn't have any attachement to twitter at that moment I didn't really have a reason to invest in it. I believe that G+ is by far the best designed social platform out there and I was an immediate fan. I thought I'd fully move over to G+ (once I figured out how to get all my photos off facebook I actually quit that). I wrote a blog post about this a while back.

My main rule from the start with G+ was (and pretty much still is apart from one exception that I'll get to in a bit): only post publicly about stuff linked to my "professional life" ~ so "science-y" stuff. I stick to this not because I don't want to share pictures of my holidays with the world but mainly because I think no one would care and I don't want to bore anyone. Having said that, I know a lot of people who share non "science-y" stuff publicly and I certainly enjoy reading it, for example Dana Ernst (a mathematician) often posts about his trail running activities which I always enjoy reading.

I know some people actually do the opposite and use circles to "direct" information. For example they have a math circle and post mathematical content to that circle. I personally don't feel that is the best way to do things as it stops people you haven't circled from finding your posts. 

I use circles for personal things (ie stuff I don't think the world cares about ~ with some friends we communicate via G+ instead of text messages as a bunch of us can follow a single conversation) and also to filter how I read information. For example I have a math circle, a programming circle and a news circle. During the day, depending on my mood I'll read from one of those circles.

That's the very basics of how I use G+ on a day to day basis. 

Some Anecdotes

I really enjoy G+ and have had some great interactions (by all means skip this section as it's just a couple of personal experiences):

- A recent conversation about the teaching of Game theory on one of John Baez's post is a great example of how G+ allows for sharing of knowledge and interaction. I "met" quite a few people on that post and got quite a few ideas for teaching.

- I've learnt a lot about R from Josh Wiley who even took a look at some teaching materials I was putting together. I'm not too sure how Josh and I met (ie on what post) but I guess it was following a series of conversations that I felt comfortable enough to ask him for a hand.

- I've had some students points out typos in my notes :)

- At the very beginning of my time on G+ I spent a while looking for mathematicians and Operational Researchers. One of the early people that I interacted with was Bo Jensen. Paul Harper and myself would chat for ages with Bo about how to use circles (I think we still don't agree :) ). We had a 1 year anniversary hangout:


All of the above are just some small examples of some cool interactions I've had on G+. One of the best things I've done that had some connection to G+ was when I posted about it during the long run my fiancĂ©e and I did (160 km over 5 days). This was from Cardiff to Gregynog (where a mathematics colloquium is held every year). This slightly broke with my above "rule" about just posting publicly about "science-y" stuff. Having said that it was a very special experience and I actually posted publicly about it the whole way using the hashtag (oh yeah they work on G+ as well): #jog2nog. On the second day I proposed to Zoe and it was kind of fun to share it.

How I do things

The main point for me about G+ is that you can make it as personal as you want. There is no "right way" to use G+. I've often discussed this on G+ when some people have stated that people "do things the wrong way". I think that's what's great about it, there is no right or wrong way to use it.

Having said that this is how I do things:
  • Engage on other people's posts. I think that I enjoy discussions on other people's post far more than on mine. So I often spend time just reading through posts chatting and meeting new people.
  • Engage with people on your posts. I'm always flattered when people take the time to post a comment on one of my posts so I always try to enter in to a conversation if there's scope for one. 
  • Don't circle everybody. I love the asymmetry of G+. This allows for the possibility that some people might be interested in what I say whilst I might not care for what they say (and obviously vice versa - there are quite a few people I've circled who haven't circled me back and I'm certainly not offended by that). I do my best to take a look at people who engage with me and often circle people who post stuff that interests me.
  • Tag wisely. There's a lot going on on G+ (people who call it a ghost town make me giggle but I'll get back to that). So it's tricky to see everything so I often tag people in to conversations if I feel that they might have something to add or might like to listen in. Similarly I always appreciate being tagged in to a conversation that I might be interested in.
  • Link to G+ stuff on other sites. Photos are awesome on G+ and a public post can be seen by anyone (whether or not they're on G+) so I often grab the link to a post (by clicking on the date stamp) and share that (that's in fact the only way I currently use twitter).
  • Have buffer circles. When large circles get shared I often add the whole circle but put it in a particular circle (eg "Science [to edit]" as opposed to my "Science" circle). I put the noise filter up quite high on that circle (see pic) and slowly move people I'm interested in over to my main "Science" circle.
  • NEVER "Also send email to ...". You can post to a particular circle and choose to notify everyone in that circle (see pic). I only ever tag particular people if I want them to seethe post but I never spam an entire circle. I don't recommend doing it as it's an easy way to make people mad...

Find stuff

People who call G+ a ghost town are like people who walk in to a busy bar with their eyes closed, walk out and say that no one was in there. Search for stuff you like (for example "math" and/or "science") and just meet people. If you don't want to meet people then I guess G+ also works, just sit by yourself and don't speak to anybody (I don't think that would be that much fun though).

If you want science take a look at the following:

- Fraser Cain's handpicked  science circle.
- The Science on Google+ Public Database: a bunch of circles on science.
- A small circle of Operational Researchers who post publicly. I put that together while ago so I really should update it.

Something brand new has appeared on G+ in the last couple of days: Communities. I'm still unsure about them as I'm a bit worried that they're compartmentalising information but just search for a community and you'll find people in there to meet :)

Some final thoughts

The one word I always think about when describing G+ to people is "learn". I have learnt so much from G+ (cool programming things, teaching methodologies, general mathematics etc). I am very grateful.

I never really got going with twitter and so I'm sure I'm "not using it right" but I just don't see how it can offer the same level of engagement as G+ does. A while back someone tweeted "at" me (I'm not even sure if I'm saying it right) and I wanted to answer (they complemented me and I wanted to say thanks). After 10 seconds I gave up as I wasn't sure how to get it all down in 140 characters and also I didn't want to confuse my followers on twitter. So I simply went over to G+ and sent them a limited message (i.e. posting to just them). We ended up having a long conversation about G+ and twitter. I don't believe that that would have happened on twitter but again, perhaps I wasn't "using it right".


I've not really mentioned hangouts. They're awesome. Use them.