Communicating Across Small Teams

 AOL chat rooms circa 1990

AOL chat rooms circa 1990

Remember when the world was a simpler place and online communication was in the form of 'rooms', rather than proprietary, clunky individual chat threads? I remember AOL chat rooms (A/S/L) were the only way to communicate. It wasn't until later in the AOL desktop experience that individual, or private chats were introduced.  Today, I might have 3-4 different persistent/concurrent text chats taking place across all of my devices. For work, I use Microsoft Lync, which is integrated into the Exchange system, which is great for working across those clients. However, their iOS, Mac and handheld products are lacking in serious ways. The system does not archive or categorize chats, and the connection is not persistent when moving across devices. Meaning, threads and conversations are lost when you close the window or app. 

File Index

Our team heavily relies on acute communication to accomplish projects in a short amount of time. Most of our projects are not asset or personnel heavy. Most of the items are narrative based and can be accomplished through a variety of files, images and link sharing. We explored the typical top 10 list of online project management tools. Basecamp was too robust, Asana was too bullet and task based and provided little narrative exchange. We needed a narrative, text based client that was persistent that handled and managed links, files and mobile access with ease. 


HipChat, an Atlasssian product, quickly floated to the top, as many other similar persistent chat clients provided this service, their product fit our needs perfectly. Now, our projects, initiatives and conversations are grouped into rooms, with private chats between team members listed alongside the group chats. The software is slick and has a simple UI.  It even renders hex codes when referencing a certain web safe colors. The Mac client is zippy and reliable, as is the iOS, Android and Windows based client. A great feature is tagging or adding an individual to the chat using the '@' and the users name. This allows for cross conversational dialogue. The slash commands help save time when sharing code and is a great trick to save a few mouse clicks. We also love that it renders animated .gifs and you can upload your own emoticons. The platform has virtually eliminated email for our 5 person team, allow for us to message each other when away from the desktop client, which pushes a notification alert email. Additionally, each thread pulls in and indexes the files and links shared making it easy to search and query past conversations. We'll continue to explore new ways to collaborate from afar, but with HipChat consistently updating their client, most recently with audio and video chat - which works great, this service is perfect for small or large teams that need to communicate on the fly. 

Google+ EdTech Community

When Google announced the creation of the community feature on Google+, I knew it would be a special space that would allow for widespread connection across folks in specific domains. Facebook was too closed in their groups approach. Although Twitter's hashtags create a great feed for specific domain knowledge and communications, the interactions were too thin in terms sharing multimedia, stories and creating a community around one particular idea. Enter Google+ Communities. More than a year old, Google+ Communities was announced  in Dec 2012.  I sat feverishly pinned to a browser tapping F5 waiting for the rollout to hit my account. When available, I created the EdTech Community. Pulling from the language and logo I developed for a denied EdTech unconference proposal the community was minted with fresh marketing and a pointed mission. Within the first hour, Andrew Hill and I watched the community grow to over 300 member reaching close to 1,000 by the morning. The following month there were close to 3,000 members. Fast forward a year, the community boasts close to 16,000 followers. 

Working closely with Todd Hurst, a fellow PhD student, we encouraged new followers to share their stories as educators, technologists, and enthusiasts about how technology can positively impact education. The initial layout allowed for the categorization of posts, barring the member tagged the appropriate pre-selected subject. The platform has afforded us the opportunity to interview amazing educators and thought leaders via Google+ Hangouts. Our first hangout was with Nick Provenzano, a high school english teacher and ISTE 2013 Outstanding Teacher of the Year, who is most known for his work with Evernote in the classroom. This was followed by an interview with John Nash, the Director of the Design Lab for Education at the University of Kentucky. We followed with a great conversation with Vincent Cho, a Professor at Boston College in the Department of Education Leadership and Higher Education.  

We recently presented at UCEA about how this community could act as a spring board and resource for education technology leaders. The presentation was met with positive response, as there is no definitive online space for education leaders looking to discuss the integration of technology in education. Although the community does not have the high level of interaction that we seek at a human, or academic level, we feel confident that the members are learning, sharing and interacting towards the progress of technology in education. As we analyze and review the interactions that take place, we are limited by the closed API for Google+ Communities, which hinders our ability to systematically make changes based on member behavior and postings. If we could measure the interaction and content in which members share, we could better gauge the level of interaction and shape the conversation beyond what many consider to be a 'link dumpster'.  As we continue down the path of Education Leadership in Technology we will always find ways to curate ideas, innovations and technologies to promote education. Google+ Communities stands a chance to make a significant dent in organizing ideas, thoughts and people from across the globe around one idea. With significant user interaction modifications and moderator controls, the communities can act as a space where users can adequately and efficiently share ideas, links and ping the community for feedback just as they would when entering a room. For now, we are limited by the structural make-up and organizational layout of Communities. Without significant modifications, we will continue to see hollow-posts, interaction, self promotion and little engagement. 

What can we learn from hashtags as an indexing tool for scholarly research?

Do you feel the Internet is an easy to navigate space for developing a strong literature base for academic research? Or are your inquiries, scholarly or not, piece milled through a variety of sources,  channels and strategies? How could this process be improved? Could complex search inquiry strings be more comprehensive of information both in academic, social, literary, periodical and journalistic sources?


An omnibus view of all content, regardless of channel could be made possible by the use hashtags, a type of metadata. If unfamiliar, a hashtag is any form of characters led by the “#” symbol. If standardized in scholarly, literary and journalistic sources, this shift could fundamentally change the way we consume and access content across the Internet. With its origins in the C programming language in the late 1970’s, to Internet Relay Chat(IRC) networks, the hashtag has now reached the point of common use in modern social networking platforms. Today, they are primarily used to categorize and index discussions, ideas, products, all represented by pictures, videos or text-based messages on social platforms. The popularity and use of the hashtag grew concurrently with the rise of twitter and can now be utilized across Google+, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and are typically standard features on new social platforms to promote sharing and interaction.

How could  the hashtag overcome the platform for which they are used? Will a platform or service be created that indexes hashtags based on one's interests, social or scholarly? Will this use of hashtags lead to the cannibalization of one platform over the other? It seems that the social media platform market has differentiated itself in terms of specific features, purpose and target audience. Beyond just the popular tags used in social media,  how could the hashtag potentially shift how we conduct academic research? Catapulting the scholarly integration and collaboration that could increase shared work in healthcare, business, science and education.  For now scholarly research is confined by closely guarded repositories that require subscriptions or affiliation with an academic institution. Regardless of the credentialing or monetary gains from scholarly research, the indexing and categorization could be unified across each repository. This could be leveraged through a hashtag indexing protocol.  

Most of what advanced Internet users do today is curate their favorite content (academic or social). Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeder tools, search filters, and content alerts & subscriptions allow for us to control the amount of waste we encounter in a given browsing or research session.

Current hashtag curation tools help reduce the noise and feed to only the social content we want. It is not too far to say, with open API's and web services, the entire Internet and its contents could be indexed through hashtags. The difference between Google's indexing process and the hashtag metadata tagging process, is that the user (you) has the choice to create a filter for the contents of the inquiry. By using hashtags as a standard protocol for indexing topics, movements, ideas and conversations could categorized content regardless of the hosting  or retrieval platform. At this point, we can assume that as hashtags grow in use across content creators, this will open up as a filter to search by through Google search appliances. This could be as simple as a new ‘hashtag’ filter on the Google search platform in addition to ‘news’ and ‘web’.

With the advent of complex algorithms for finding and querying information on the Internet, google has developed and improved upon their algorithm, Hummingbird. Beyond Google's Hummingbird search algorithm, is Google Scholar, which indexes scholarly literature across a variety of sources. How could this be layered with the indexing power of the hashtag? If scholarly publishing platforms and services adopted a standard tagging platform like hashtags, this could provide researchers with a broader and more comprehensive view of the content and topics across all mediums, scholarly, social, media and journalism.

Serious attention has been given to the Internet of Things (IoT), which are objects and virtual products that connect to the Internet.  The realization that storage, connectivity, bandwidth, and hardware are becoming so small and cheap that anything that could be connected,  will be connected to a network. How will the connectedness of devices and humans change the way we search, aggregate, and consume content through indexing practices like hashtags? This could be the common denominator or standard in which content, regardless of the medium, is searchable and indexed across the Internet.

The implications for the use of hashtags to index, organize and accesf research and scholarly work are boundless. Teachers, researchers, and students have the potential to source content outside of the traditional channels, gaining a wider perspective on a given topic. The game changer takes place when hashtag are standardized by academic authors, journals, publishers, repositories, and educational resources. This standardization has the potential to reach new audiences in real time as opposed to historical search methods like boolean search, RSS feeds, search filters and aggregation platforms. Tools like TagBoard, could expand upon social platforms and provide services to aggregate and sort literature, articles, books, blog posts, taking the hashtag beyond it’s current use for sorting and indexing social activity. If implemented and adopted across channels by authors and publishers, this could create a greater picture for administrators, educators, researchers and learners to sort, index, and consume information specific to their domain of learning or research.  

 Image Credit: Flickr user Theo La