People’s Choice Vote – the final score

Yesterday the LinkedUp Project announced the winners of its Vici Competition, the third and final competition in the LinkedUp Challenge. All 3 competitions have involved the judging of software prototypes and apps that build on open education data using an extensively researched and refined evaluation framework. They have also all included an ‘online open vote’.

Winners of the Vici Competition

Winners of the Vici Competition

The process of implementing the People’s Choice Award has been a bit of a roller coaster ride and I’m keen to share our experiences.

I wanted this assessment of our approaches to be both open and honest, and so it feels appropriate to publish it here – on my own personal blog – rather than on the LinkedUp site, or elsewhere.

Some Background…

Before the launch of the first competition I was in discussion with colleagues at Open Knowledge (where I’m based) and we agreed that although the evaluation framework is a fair way to judge an open data competition it is not a very inclusive process. Only an elite group of reviewers get to judge the entries – everyone else’s views are discounted. Community building within LinkedUp is very much about building new audiences so we came up with the idea of the People’s Choice Vote – a way to involve everyone and anyone in the judging of the competition. It was agreed that the People’s Choice Vote would be run in parallel with the evaluation framework assessment giving competition entrants an opportunity to promote their submission, and external people an opportunity to be involved in the voting process. In my role as dissemination and community building co-ordinator it seemed like an interesting approach to take and and the consortium agreed that it was something we could spend time on. Maybe at this stage we were naive in our thinking that it would be easy to run such a vote.

Although I’d had some experience of running online votes before (mainly related to chosing sessions for a conference I’d been involved in) we did recognise that the People’s Vote would be some extent an experiment. We were unfamiliar with the currently available software used and had only a vague idea of the challenges such a vote would pose. However the LinkedUp Project is partially a research project so this level of experimentation seemed reasonable providing we share our experiences; it was agreed that it was a risk worth taking. Hopefully our insights will prove to be a useful resource for others planning to run a similar open vote in the future.

Veni Vote

For the Veni Competition I carried out quite a bit of investigation into who was running online voting and the type of solutions involved. In the end we went with Ideascale. The setup worked well but unfortunately our freemium version meant that while voters could only vote once on each idea they could vote down as well as up using a dislike button. This meant that some competitors and their supporters were coming to the site and voting everything down except for their own entry. Naturally this upset many of the competitors and to ensure positive results we added in extra opportunities to physically vote at the LinkedUp poster session at the OKConference in September 2013, venue for the Veni awards. The competitors who were causing the problems also ended up getting eventually locked out of the system.

Veni Vote in Ideascale

Veni Vote in Ideascale

I documented my thoughts on the Veni vote in the following blog post: Online Voting: The highs and lows.

Vidi Vote

It was clear that the service to be used for the Vidi Competition Vote had to only allow positive voting. We were offered an alternative software solution: GNOSS, a software platform, created by RIAM Intelearning LAB S.L. who specialise in online social networks with dynamic semantic publishing. The GNOSS team were actually shortlisted for the Veni Competition so had some understanding of what was required for the People’s Choice. The system (described in this post) was much more complex than Ideascale and to prevent vote rigging it required that voters register with the GNOSS site or use an already established account. The GNOSS setup is still available online.

Vidi People's choice in GNOSS

Vidi Vote in GNOSS

The system, whilst being more secure, received some criticism for its complexity. Loging in was either via Facebook, Twitter, or a new GNOSS registration. During this process the interface would change language (from English to Spanish at regular intervals) so for example you were required to make selections related to the community you wanted to participate in with little explanation.

The GNOSS solution was definitely better, but still didn’t tick all the boxes for us.

Vici Vote

Despite being out third effort and the feeling that we should almost be there by now, the Vici People’s Choice was by far the most complicated.

In response to the feedback that the GNOSS system had been overly complicated we opted to use a dedicated, yet fairly simplistic online voting app. The app was called Vote Contest was created by Wishpond and for the first time during the LinkedUp Challenge we actually paid for the software. It’s simplicity was it’s appeal and we were able to embed it in our website. You can read more about the Wishpond system in the Vici People’s Choice launch post.

Vici People's Vote in Vote Contest from Wishpond

Vici Vote in Vote Contest from Wishpond

Unfortunately it became clear fairly early on that there were problems with the software. The mobile version of the site had a bug that enabled people to refresh the page and then vote again with the same email address. There was also no email verification and as the Mobile version failed to remember the MAC address this resulted in opportunities to game the system. After a few days and discussions with the Wishpond team (who initially denied the problem and then admitted that they were unable to fix it) we were left with broken software and scores that were effectively null and void. After a consortium meeting an executive decision was made that due to a relatively short-timescale there would not be a chance to investigate and implement alternative online voting solutions. The only option was to cancel the online vote completely. Not wanting to let the Vici entrants down completely it was decided that we would replace the online People’s Choice Vote with an offline People’s Choice Vote. The People’s Choice winner will be identified during a physical People’s Choice Vote that would take place at the poster session at ISWC in Italy – where the Vici awards were to be held.

We were put in a very difficult position and it was clear that whatever decision was made would cause some upset. Many of the competition entrants complained but came to realise that we had been left with no other options.

Tokens for the Vici People's Choice

Tokens for the Vici People’s Choic

Running a physical People’s Vote at ISWC was an arduous task. All ISWC attendees received a token (shown above) in their ISWC delegate bags. This involved the creation of 650 ‘tokens’ (pieces of card with the details of the vote on). The tokens had a space for people to write their name and their entry on – the thinking behind this was that it would involve competitors ‘borrowing’ tokens from unused bags. The Vici Challenge entrants were invited to showcase their entries and their posters during the ISWC minute madness session encouraging delegates to come and vote for them. The posters were then on display in a dedicated Poster and Demonstration session and delegates were able to vote for their favourite submission by placing your token in the relevant poster bag.

At ISWC alongside the LinkedUp Challenge there was also a best poster competition. Over 130 posters were competing in the competition and delegates could vote for their favourite poster using the ISWC website or phone app – this involved using a code number placed in their delegate bags – again more ways to avoid gaming the system. It was clear that with so many choices delegates were at voting saturation level. Although over 100 votes were placed for the LinkedUp Vici Challenge it was a relatively small sample of the 650 attendees.


Over the last year the vote process has given me extensive food for thought around our innate tendency to compete, and at times cheat. Any voting system has to be set up with this in mind.

In hindsight the time and effort in running a successful People’s Choice Vote was underestimated. Software solutions need to be well tested by a committed team looking for loopholes and opportunities to break the system. They also need to be tried out on multiple devices. While all the LinkedUp People’s Choice votes has been marred with attempts to game the system I still glad that we run it and believe that it was established with the right motivation in mind. LinkedUp has attempted to be inclusive and innovative in its approaches to raising the profile of open data in education. In fulfilling this task we have worked hard as a consortium to reach out to new audiences and include the general public when possible.

At this year’s ISWC the complexities of running the People’s Vote seemed overwhelming and at times I felt like we’d let entrants to the competition down. However one shortlisted candidate kindly pointed out that it is impossible to keep everyone happy but if you try your best and your motivation is good then you just have accept that there is little more you can do.

Making things ‘open’ often highlights flaws in the system. These flaws may be with a service or device, or sometimes they are human flaws – the need to win at all costs. It’s unsurprising that online election voting has yet to reach fruition! However I still believe that transparency is a worthy approach and hope that those who competed in the LinkedUp Challenge will recognise that it was in pursuit of the goal of openness that we made our mistakes.

10 point specification for open voting software

Experience has shown us that to fully work an online voting system will need to consider the following points:

  1. Email validation – those with a creative mind can make up emails, there needs to be some way of proving that a voter is an individual.
  2. One person = one vote – basically the ability to block voters after one vote.
  3. Only allow positive voting – having negative votes is depressing for all.
  4. Random listings of entries – people will often vote for what is at the top of the, random listing of entries goes to some lengths to ensure more even voting.
  5. Urls links for entries – it’s not totally necessary but it can be useful to have one url per entry – this allows easier promotion entries.
  6. Easy to use – If it isn’t easy users will give up before voting.
  7. The ability to add tags – not necessary but allows you to do interesting things with the content.
  8. The ability to add images and links in the description – some software will only let you add plain text.
  9. Embedding into your website, Facebook etc. – versatile services will let you embed the app and not require users to go to a separate website.
  10. Test your software – test it, and then test it, and test it again on lots of different devices.

It is also worth thinking about openness – how open do you want your system to be? Could you run it on Facebook or as a smart phone app or do you feel that is excluding people?

Some current open voting systems you could try

  • Google docs – you could create a poll
  • GNOSS – see Veni!
  • – they have some great voting and collaboration software going on
  • Facebook Like count linked to descriptions of items. Each user is required to have a facebook account to vote and a “like” would be consider a vote, and by design, each user can only like something once.
  • Polldaddy plugin for wordpress
  • Opinionstage plugin
  • Jisc Elevator used a drupal module – not possible for us
  • Ideascale – see Veni vote!
    Simply voting – costs, looks complex
  • Estonia released its national e-voting system on github – it’s probably overkill for a competition though, fairly complex
  • SnapSurvey – costs, very corporate
  • Election buddy – costs, maybe overkill
  • Eballot – costs

Related blog posts

3 Good Reasons Why Remote Work is Booming

Despite many organisations moving away from remote working (see the recent demands from Reddit that their staff relocate – last year Yahoo did the same) remote working continues to become more popular. Monica Wells of BizDb reminds us why.


Remote work has during the last few years become an increasingly popular professional trend. More and more people are finding it easier to work from home, saving up on time and money that would otherwise be lost in commuting. Companies, on the other hand, can easily outsource their services and use cutting-edge technologies to communicate and collaborate in such a way as to render distance irrelevant and create a cohesive team.

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Here are the top 3 reasons the explain the present popularity of remote work from the perspective of workers and employers.


What workers love about remote work is its flexibility and the opportunity it grants them for achieving a great work-life balance, where they’re able to cultivate their passions and get a lot of work done in one day. Working from home, employees don’t need to feel stressed about their schedule and commuting – this helps them to stay productive and more satisfied.

One of the biggest perks of remote working is the ability to control one’s schedule. Gone are the days of a 9 to 5 job – mobile devices and cloud computing allow to work literally from anywhere and at any time, provided there’s an Internet connection. All this accounts for the increased satisfaction of workers, who have more freedom and so are more motivated to do a great job for their organization.

Workers And Employers Can Cut Expenses

When working in remote, employees not only save time, but money as well. Saving up on gas or public transport tickets is on the long run great not only for their wallets, but also for the environment – less cars on the streets simply mean less pollution.

Seen from the perspective of employers, remote work is a cheap affair. Companies are able to find qualified workers who provide similar talent and productivity to local workers, but at a lower cost. Apart from salaries, companies open to remote work additionally save up on office space and other facilities.

Companies Can Attract Talent

This is particularly relevant to sectors suffering from skill shortage or tough competition to acquire talented workers. Thanks to remote working environment, companies can benefit from skills of people who don’t need to be located near its headquarters, automatically rising the chance of finding competent and talented candidates.

In order to attract talents, employers need to come across as flexible and ready to accommodate skilled employees through a variety of employee-oriented policies. Companies can offer remote work to on-site employees too – it’s a great factor to retain them and boost their satisfaction.

Remote work still needs to be addressed as a potential challenge, but its benefits are simply worth the price. Communication is the biggest issue here – without proper tools and training, distance might affect the dynamics of team collaboration.

Needless to say, the management style employed in remote context will also radically differ from traditional one and could possibly require additional training. Without specific knowledge, managers will see the productivity of their team crumble under the pressure of distance.

Fortunately, there’s a whole wealth of technologies and cloud services that make collaboration and communication significantly easier. Other than that, companies interested in remote work can benefit from the expertise provided by specialized venture that deliver solutions for creating, managing and improving remote work opportunities.

Is remote work for everyone? That largely depends on the industry and company size. Following the steps taken by Yahoo, Reddit has just placed a new policy, which forces workers to either relocate to the company’s headquarters in San Francisco or face contract termination.

While remote might not work for those tech giants, it’s a perfect working environment for budding start-ups and mid-sized companies that know how to use technology to their advantage and employ it in order to efficiently manage remote workers and help them to collaborate as a team.

The economies of openness

Week 4 was a cliptastic week on the Stanford Open Knowledge MOOC with a plethora of remixed videos arguing for and against current digital copyright laws and other legal and economic issues of openness.

The Copyright clearance video explained it well: “copyright is complicated” – even more so when you start working across country and sector boundaries.

Rights like fair use (where use is based on best practices and takes in to account the purpose and character of the use, e.g. commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work) help the situation, but as most of us knew before embarking on this MOOC copyright is out-dated for the digital age. In the UK our equivalent fair dealing is limited to research and private study (both must be non-commercial), criticism, review, and news reporting.

Interested in looking at something beyond the arguments around licensing I decided to put my energy into watching law professor Yochai Benkler on Open-source economics looks more deeply at the economics driving the democratization of cultural production. His argument is that years ago producers had to be able to raise financial capital to start producing news content. There was an industrial knowledge economy but it was market based or government owned. This requirement has been inverted by the Internet. There is now a distributed knowledge economy, capital is still required but it is spread out, resulting in communication and computation sitting in the hands of population. The issues are no longer just quality but relevance. We now have four transactional frameworks: market-based or non-market based, decentralised or centralised. There is more competition but also new opportunities – toolmakers for new systems, building platforms etc. Social production is a fact, not a fad, in some contexts it is more efficient than markets or firm, but it is a threat to and threatened by incumbent industrial models.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 11.07.29

This week the expert on hand was Dr. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning for Creative Commons. Cable is a member of the Open Education Advisory Group of the Open Education Working Group I co-ordinate so nice to see him involved. Cable has posed three questions for the course attendees with some suggested answers. To summarise, his questions were:

  1. What does open educational resources (oer) success look like? “what is the world we’re trying to create?” “how can we quantify it?” “are there intermediate ‘mile posts’ or changes of state, either catalytic or symbolic that we want?”
  2. Where can NGOs, foundations and individual open advocates have the most impact? What are the things we must do and/or are best positioned to do? What opportunities are out there for us that we’re missing?
  3. What role does open policy have to play?
  4. What metrics should we track? If we could only pick a few metrics to guide us, what would they be? What would show we’re collectively having impact?

Great questions and I hope to share them with the Working Group sometime soon.

Virtual Teams: Benefits & Challenges

Martin-White-2-2014Martin White is a well-known face in the information management world. He has been the Managing Director of Intranet Focus, which provides consulting services related to intranet strategies, for over 15 years. In 2012 Intranet Focus launched a series of Research Notes on topics arising from their consulting work. Topics are broad ranging but often touch on areas of interest to those working remotely.

Martin recently published a research note on Managing Virtual Teams. The extended research note [PDF]  provides an overview of good practice in managing virtual teams both in team meetings and between meetings. There are ten recommendations based on Martin’s own experience of managing virtual teams dating back to 1975. Appendices set out the elements of a profile of virtual team members and also the structure of a training course that Intranet Focus deliver. An article by Martin on The management of virtual teams and virtual meetings was published in published in Business Information Review (unfortunately the journal is not open access but Martin is happy to discuss with those interested.)

Although the current language of business speaks of ‘collaboration’ it does not speak of ‘virtual collaboration’ but of virtual teams. This is useful because not all teams work in a collaborative way with a common cause. A team can be defined as a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as an intact social entity embedded in one or more larger social systems, and who manage their relationship across organisational boundaries. A team therefore has a unity of purpose, a social structure, and its members share a common responsibility for outcomes which is not necessarily a common cause.

Probably the most comprehensive survey of virtual team adoption currently available was undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit in late 2009.

The main reasons quoted in the report for establishing virtual teams were

  • Improve collaboration with other business units
  • Tap into a larger pool of expertise
  • Improve competitiveness through a faster response to opportunities
  • Cost reduction, especially travel costs and the need for internal meeting spaces
  • Improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners

The challenges of working in virtual teams were seen as

  • Misunderstandings due to differences in culture, language and an inability to read people’s expressions
  • Difficulty in leading teams remotely
  • Difficulty in building camaraderie and trust
  • Difficulty in managing the productivity of virtual teams
  • Managing information overload

Building a virtual team takes a lot of care and effort. The considerations of language, location, time and culture have to be taken into account in not only the selection of the staff concerned but also in setting up and managing each meeting.  There may be potentially a key member of the virtual team who does not have good spoken language skills and it may be necessary to bring in an interpreter who themselves may not have the security clearance to be participating in the meeting.

Adding someone to the team may be required but removing someone could be very difficult. In a physical meeting situation a quiet word to a manager may be effective but in a virtual team that call has to be made by ‘phone, and the person who is asked to leave may feel that not enough has been done to enable them to contribute to the meeting. The newcomer may also change the dynamics and levels of trust in the team.

The word TEAM provides a useful mnemonic for virtual teams

  • Trust between members of the team, and that their work is worthwhile, is essential. Once broken it cannot be rebuilt
  • Engagement is very difficult to achieve in a virtual team and so has to be worked on in a step-by-step approach recognising that each member of the team is an individual
  • Achievement, both personal and as a team, should be recognised and used to build engagement and trust
  • Membership needs to be kept under continuous review, as just one person that fails to achieve and/or fails to engage and/or fails to understand the importance of trust will have a major impact on every other member

Culture, time and place

Virtual teams have three dimensions to their operation

  • National and organisational culture (which includes language)
  • Time
  • Location

These need to be taken into account at all times in the planning, execution and review of a virtual meeting. A simple ‘3D’ graphic pinned to a desktop can be a valuable mnemonic.

Most multi-national companies adopt English as a corporate language for corporate communications, but certainly companies outside of the USA are made aware every day that this is a guideline and not a command. This is especially the case in Europe where it is difficult to travel more than 500 miles from a city centre without entering a country with a different language.

In meetings with attendees from different countries it is often easier for them to understand English spoken as a second (or even third) language than English spoken by a native speaker because of the use of idioms and inadvertently complex sentence constructions. An important point that is often overlooked is that native speakers of English need to allow time between sentences to give others a chance to ‘translate’ concepts (rather than words) into their own language.

When planning virtual team meetings it is important to understand that there are four elements of language skills

  • The ability to speak
  • The ability to understand what is being said
  • The ability to write
  • The ability to read

Individual team members may have different levels of skill in each of these four areas, and making an assumption to the contrary could lead to major problems with understanding and with decision making.

The concept of location is also complex. Members of the virtual team could be in different floors of the same building, in different buildings, in different countries and of course not even in a building at all but on a train, plane or in a hotel dining room.  With audio or Skype video conferences it might not be at all obvious where the attendees are actually sitting. The location may have an impact on ambient noise levels, on whether the attendee can be overhead by colleagues or strangers, and on whether it is possible for the attendee to write notes of the meeting.   This mobile location component is increasingly important as mobile technology enables people to be away from their offices on a more extended basis.

Even a small company operating on a regional basis may want to include one or more of its employees with others in a virtual meeting.  It is important to understand that even having one person ‘phoning in to what otherwise would be a regular physical meeting will change the dynamics of the meeting. This is especially the case when the person leading the meeting tries to do so from a remote location, or even on vacation. This is because another aspect of location is the distribution effect. If the majority of the participants are in one location then they will be a dominant force in the discussion, especially if the leader of the meeting is also present at that location. They will also have the benefit of being able to see the body language of their colleagues and to time their contributions to the discussion.

Just some of the challenges of time in virtual meetings include different times to start and end the working day and public holidays being taken on different days (even in the UK!).  We all want to manage our own diaries and feel uncomfortable when someone calls a meeting at an unsuitable time without prior consultation. Even if we can actually participate in the meeting we may do so in a less-than-constructive way.  Even a small change in time, say from 09.00 to 08.30 could be very difficult for people commuting by public transport to accommodate easily.

Training requirements

In view of the increasing importance of virtual teams companies should be providing training in how to manage virtual teams but very few do so. Team leaders in particular will need to gain some additional skills.

These include

  • Understanding the skills and experience that team members need to have to be effective members of a virtual team
  • Maintaining close working relationships with the managers of team members to ensure they are aware of the organisation and office environment in which team members are operating
  • Taking additional time to prepare for a meeting so that for example all team members have the documents they need several days in advance
  • Being adept at using conferencing and social media applications to help the team achieve objectives
  • Being able to motivate team members that they have not met, and may not have chosen to be a member of the team
  • Being ready to call team members by name to contribute, remembering which team members may not have spoken for a period of time
  • Accepting that it is very difficult to concentrate on leading a virtual team meeting and make notes of the discussions and actions

A team leader who is excellent in managing physical meetings may not be equally as proficient when managing virtual team meetings. If leading or even participating in virtual teams is a core activity then their performance should be included in annual performance appraisals.

Some companies have built a certification process into virtual team participation so that employees (and managers) initially build up expertise in single country/same time zone virtual meetings and then progress to managing complex multi-national, multi-cultural teams in due course.


My ten recommendations for getting the best out of virtual teams and virtual team meetings are

  1. Recognise that virtual teams are going to be increasingly important to any organisation, and ensure that current and potential participants have access to training and mentoring on virtual team management and virtual team meetings.
  2. Virtual teams should have very clear objectives so that it is possible to set the investment in the team against the outcome and also that team members bring appropriate skills, expertise and authority to take action.
  3. Leadership skills that work for physical teams may not be as valuable in a virtual team environment. Other skills are needed and have to be acquired through practice, not just through reading or teaching.
  4. Without good team meetings a virtual team is very unlikely to achieve its objectives and so particular care should be taken in developing guidelines for virtual meetings and for facilitating feedback.
  5. Develop good profiles of each team member, taking into account local availability of technology and offices, which can be used to take part in virtual meetings (especially in the case of open-plan offices) and language expertise.
  6. Ideally each team should have an opportunity to meet with other members of the team at the outset of the team being set up. Where this is not possible there should be an initial virtual meeting where team members can introduce themselves and gain experience with the technology being used before the first formal meeting of the team.
  7. Team dynamics of virtual teams can be quite fragile, often depending on a very high level of trust in people they may not have met before. Introducing a new team member into an existing team may mean starting the process of building trust all over again.
  8. Social media applications can be of value in supporting virtual teams but may need to be tailored to specific team requirements.
  9. Issues of language and culture need careful consideration but should never be an excuse not to bring specific individuals into a team.
  10. Every member of a virtual team should feel that they gave gained from their participation the experience that is useful to their local situation and their personal career development.

This article was first published on the UKeig blog.

Calling All Digital Captives

Yikes! Week 3 of Stanford’s Open Knowledge MOOC already!

Last week the topic was ‘Technological Change, Digital Identity, and Connected Learning’ and I watched Socialnomics by Erik Qualman (picked because it was the shortest video!) which filled me to the brim with interesting (and sometimes unbelievable) statistics.

  • 53% of Millenials would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology
  • Each day 20% of the terms typed into Google have never been searched before
  • More people own a mobile device than a toothbrush
  • The average person has an 0.07 attention span, average goldfish has an 0.08 second one

This week it’s ‘Participatory Culture, Citizen Journalism, Citizen Science’. The idea is get critical perspectives on openness as well as the positive ones. Now this I liked! I’m always really keen to try and get an opposing view to my own. Many of us live and work in a little bubble where we surround ourselves with agreement. The RSA Animate – The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens? Talk by Evgeny Morozov was really interesting.


Morozov presents an alternative take on ‘cyber-utopianism’, the seductive idea that the internet plays a largely emancipatory role in global politics. He talks about ‘cyberutopians': people who believe in transformative power of the web and “ipod liberalism”: the belief that people who have ipods will support western values. He sees these ideas as dangerous and naïve – for example some believe that if social networking was around a few years back the genocide in Rwanda wouldn’t have happened. Morozov’s main point is the good ole one that tools can be used for both good and bad. While getting countries online has aided democracy it also leaves an evidence trail. Dictators now just need to go to Facebook and Twitter to lay their hands on information they used to have to torture people to find. I like his idea of ‘digital renegades’ and ‘digital captives’. “Are they (young people) the “digital renegades,” ready to leverage the power of social networking and text messaging to topple their undemocratic governments? Or are they “digital captives,” whose political and social dissent has been significantly neutered by the Internet, turning them into happy consumers of Hollywood’s digital marginalia?” (New York Times)

Hmm, which am I? Something to chew on while using my 0.07 attention span.

Google Apps for Business and Remote Workers

Kelly SmithKelly Smith works at, an Australian online courses resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers and works as a freelance writer.

She’s written a post for us on Google Apps for Business and the potential for remote workers.


Many remote workers might remember the statement from Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Meyers, who condemned the idea of working remotely and swiftly ordered all of the company’s employees to show up in person at their offices. Her opinion was echoed by Yahoo’s HR head, who claimed “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home [...] we need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

But the above is a very limited point of view. Provided that remote workers use the many cloud tools available to them in a smart way, there should be very few sacrifices involved with a remote working environment. One of the most popular and efficient packages that help team members to collaborate, communicate, as well as store and manage data is Google Apps for Business.


But what exactly is Google Apps for Business?

It’s a set of the most popular Google apps that help to manage a business from remote locations. Inside, we find apps everyone knows and uses on daily basis – Gmail to provide email, Drive for storage and document creation (among them text documents, spreadsheets, forms, slides and sites), or Hangouts for video calls and instant messaging. Another feature is Calendar, which helps to create integrated business calendars and ensure that all workers are on the same page when it comes to important deadlines.

Google Apps for Business features two special apps – Vault and Admin. Admin is an interface for broadly defined administration and includes functionalities for mobile device management, security and control, as well as access to 24/7 Google support. Vault, on the other hand, provides an archiving service for all emails and chats, which can later be searched, managed and easily exported.

The Potential of Google Apps for Business in Remote Working

The benefits of this communication and collaboration system are multiple and varied. First, companies don’t need to spend lots of money on specialized hardware and software – all apps are in the cloud and available from every device connected to the internet. It’s perfect for companies with low budget or organizations with remote workers, who will be able to access Google apps from all locations and almost every operating system.

Seen from the perspective of remote workers, Google Apps for Business help in several major areas of any business collaboration:

  • Communication – Google apps are made for easy communication. Gmail has an understandable interface, it’s quick to use and features multiple, built-in and highly efficient security features like filtering and spam detection. Gmail includes an added feature which adds your company domain name to personalize the employee email addresses. Hangouts and Google+ can foster both individual and group communication too.
  • Collaboration – Google Drive, and its various functionalities, is there to make collaborating easier than ever. Users can edit files at the same time and consult with one another using an adjacent chat window, which can save the time lost on switching to a different instant messaging window or other devices like cellphones.
  • Efficiency – all apps are literally in a single place and available with a few clicks. After logging in, workers won’t need to switch to other programs, ensuring high productivity and no time lost on the usual distraction when using a variety of tools scattered around different platforms.
  • Time-management – All in all, Google Apps for Business really helps to save time on everything, from editing documents to brainstorming an idea.

A lot of people believe that in a decade, remote working will be as much or even more popular than the traditional office environment. The truth is that both employers and workers benefit from the dynamics of remote working. That’s why it’s likely that digital tools that foster easy collaboration, communication and management, such as Google Apps for Business, will become increasingly effective, user-friendly and geared towards breaching the time and space barrier to ensure a stimulating remote working environment.

Stanford’s Open Knowledge MOOC

Back in 2012 I took part in an Introduction to Openess in Education MOOC. I participated for a number of reasons. Firstly I wanted to experience a MOOC first hand, at the time they were a relatively new phenomena and I was curious. Secondly I was interested in the topic area, my knowledge in certain areas (for example around open data) was patchy. My final reason was to give myself something to talk about on this blog, I was struggling to find things to write about and needed a focus.

So I’m struggling again with blog content…and I need a little inspiration. Maybe it’s time for my second MOOC – an opportunity to see how things have moved on – compare and contrast.

logo_white_background_v2Today Stanford have launched a OpenEdX MOOC entitled Open Knowledge: Changing the Global Course of Learning, it’s a topic I know a fair amount about, I actually work for an organisation called Open Knowledge! So I’m interested to see if the MOOC will change how I feel about different areas of Open Knowledge and if their (the course creators) ideas radically differ from mine by the content they chose and the questions they ask. I’m also interested to see what there is still to be learnt (lots I’m sure) and to catch up new with people.

First thoughts…

The MOOC is research in itself. The Stanford team are carrying out research study on learners’ perceptions of open knowledge within the MOOC and one of the first activities is a survey. It will be interesting to hear their findings later on.

The Open Knowledge MOOC was developed by a team of instructors from Canada, the US, Ghana, and Mexico. They have attempted to make the MOOC as bilingual as possible with significant content in Spanish. The interface language can be changed, videos are transcribed and subtitled, content is flexible – none is mandatory – so missing content not available in your language is an option.

After browsing through the first module it looks like all the videos are available on YouTube and the recommended reading are all available online. It would be good to have the licence of content clearly marked though – I added this as a comment.


What is indigenous Knowledge? Rick Hill Video – available on YouTube – here with transcription

Statement of Accomplishment…

I haven’t worked out how much time I can put in to the MOOC yet but there are different ‘Statement of Accomplishment’ options depending on the time spent. These are:

  • The Connecting track, for those looking to spend less time on the course.
  • The Evaluating track needs a little more time to complete, and involves not only completing the Connecting requirements, but also doing some further writing. 

  • For the most ambitious students there is the Creating track. This will take the most time, as you will need to complete both the Connecting and Evaluating requirements, as well as build a digital project.

I’ll probably go for the Connecting Track – I need to:

  • Write 4 discussion forum posts over the course of the semester. These posts should focus on topics from the weekly course content.
  • Constructively comment on 4 peer discussion posts throughout the semester.
  • Write 8 tweets throughout the semester. These tweets should focus on topics from the weekly course content – can’t find the hashtag for it at the moment!
  • Share 8 newly discovered resources in the course Diigo group.
    Write a self-assessment documenting my completion of the track requirements and describing your learning experiences.

Once I’ve got in to the MOOC I’ll publish an update to let you know how it’s going!