This is one of those posts I’m mostly writing for myself. I’m guessing that not many people really care about my individual experience of using Google instead of GroupWise, but I need to document this so that I can be better prepared to help all of our Student Affairs units get through the process.
I’m heavily involved in our campus migration from Novell GroupWise to Google. Our campus chose Google as a student email solution (replacing a home grown Cyrus environment) and migrated all students last year. What followed was a widely debated decision to move our employees over to Google as well. What is important to note here is that we have been using GroupWise since about 1994-95. That is a long time! And, like on many campuses, we have a lot of folks who have been around that long. So this is a MAJOR change for a LOT of people.
I’m one of them. I’ve been at NC State since 1989. [Sidebar #1: I remember being very excited at getting my own voicemail account in 1991-ish (when I was a hall director). I would have never envisioned the world the way it is today. I hopefully have learned to be a bit more forward thinking!] I got my first email account — ever — in 1993; Pegasus Mail! Then we moved to GroupWise in about 1994 or 1995 (I can’t find anyone who knows exactly.) And I have been using it ever since. I consider myself a power user, and have spent a good bit of energy over the years helping others get more out of it.
Along comes Google. It launched on April 1, 2004. (And note that this was not an April Fool’s Day joke. Except maybe for companies like Novell.) I got an “invitation” for a Google account from a work colleague, Sarah Noell, which was then the only way to get on board. It came with a whopping 1 GB of storage. That really and truly was a whopping amount of email storage. My account opened on April 11, 2005; I still have that very first email. [Sidebar #2: I returned the favor to Sarah when I invited her to participate on a panel on our campus about the "Facebook Phenomenon" and she finally got onto to Facebook. I was her first (and only, for awhile) Facebook friend.]
Since then I have created probably at least a dozen Google accounts, mostly for use at work. (I use a MobileMe account for personal email.) I’ve been using Google docs like crazy this past year (including 4 different projects with colleagues from all over the country.) But I have never used Google for my day to day email. So while I am familiar with the Gmail interface, it’s quite a different thing to actually work in that environment, after so many years (and years and years) in the GroupWise environment.
My team of techies in Student Affairs (plus a couple of other techies along for the ride) volunteered to serve as a “pre-alpha” tester group. Other than a few central IT staff here and there who have migrated, ours was the first real group migration using the recently purchased and deployed migration tool. And so we had the pleasure of “going Google” this weekend. There were some glitches on the back-end with the tool, and so the migration had to be run several times before it truly completed. In the meantime, we were all still using GroupWise and monitoring the migration activity online. Everything finally migrated for me on Saturday morning. A total of 27,143 items…dang, that is a lot of email and calendar items! I spent several hours during the rest of the weekend diving into it. (My spouse calls himself a Google Widower.) So while my account technically was loaded with copies of all my GroupWise email and appointments on Saturday, there was virtually no email activity at that time. Today, Monday, August 8 is my first real work day using Google.
Wow, was it different! Much more different than I expected. Mostly, it was just GREAT.
What I Love
- Labels! I don’t have to pick a folder, I can label the hell out of anything and everything.
- The stars! Important email that I can’t get to right now? No problem. Just hit the star and I can one-click-filter for those anytime later. In GroupWise, I used to mark everything that needed my attention as “unread” — -and I am still doing that today, but I think I’ll end up with just doing the stars.
- Did I mention labels?
- Subscribable calendars! No more manually adding each and every item from the academic calendar, or the women’s basketball schedule.
- Multiple “from” addresses. There is probably a more technical term: in Gmail Settings, under the Accounts tab, you can add more “accounts” that email can be sent from. Finally, I will be able to un-subscribe from several lists from 10 years ago (in a previous job on campus) when my email address was slightly different.
- I really like the conversation view. I thought that I would NOT like it, but so far so good. If I open a conversation (which I still think of as a “thread”) and decide to either archive or delete it, the whole thing just goes away. Bam. I don’t have to search for, or come across, all the other messages in that conversation. The whole thing just goes away.
- Different in-box views. Nice to just change that up on the fly as needed.
- Themes! I should have played with those earlier. They really gave me some different looks that helped wrap my brain around the Google environment.
- Labs! Love the Labs. Love them. Little widgets that give you some extra functionality. My favorite so far is the Preview Pane.
What I Don’t Like
- Can’t choose when to add my signature block. It’s all or none. I already find myself deleting it before typing anything into the message box. I’d rather be prompted.
- Only 100 conversations per page. Ack. I am so used to the ability to seeing ALL my inbox (or folder contents, or sent items, or whatever) in one big long, scrolling window. I liked being able to just scroll through and eyeball things. I suppose that is what a thick client is for, and I suppose I’ll get used to this limit.
- No repeating calendar events for random dates…you can only do repeating events if they follow a pattern. There is a work-around, but this is a real bummer.
- A whole bunch of email came across from GroupWise either starred and/or marked as Important. I was able to run a filter and remove all that, but it was a pain. It’s not clear to me what in GroupWise caused those email to become marked as such.
- GroupWise notes don’t export. Our tool doesn’t yet handle GW notes. There are some work-arounds, but not worth the work. In the end, I must made note of my notes, and manually re-created in Google. Same deal with tasks.
- Mis-matched fields when importing GroupWise contacts into Google. The “Title” field (as in Job Title) ends up in the “Name Prefix” field in Google. I was able to fix it, but this is a step we’ll have to train our users on.
- No Google+, no iGoogle, no Google profile. Hopefully GAFE will catch up with the commercial version.
- I can’t migrate ownership of Google docs from my commercial Google accounts to my GAFE account. I can share it, but not transfer ownership.
- I can never find the reply button. Still find myself searching, searching…ah, there it is.
My Aha Moments
- Click on that little “expand” icon and the message (or chat window, etc.) pops out into a separate window.
- We really need LOTS of helper troops on the ground for our “Google Day” migration. I mean a LOT. And we need t-shirts, and lots of marketing. We need to make this an EVENT.
- OK, this is really my friend Sarah’s aha moment after talking with me earlier today: We need to really set expectations. Folks will be able to login, and immediately see email, open email, respond to email and create new email. But it will take awhile to really get comfortable with it for a lot of people.
- We’ve known this all along, but now I really see how beneficial it will be to live in the same environment as our students. All of our groups that deliver student services and developmental programs will be able to do so much more; file sharing alone is worth it, but when you add calendaring it’s just plain exciting. And the classroom opportunities will be great too.
Bottom Line: Love it. Love it. Love it.
OK, I’ll leave it at that for now. I don’t blog very often, but I will make it a point to come back to this topic at various milestones — 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year.