GCconnex 2012 State of the Platform Address

"Get back!  Get back! Get back to where you once belonged."
~ Some great old rock band
Have you missed me?  I've missed you.

Since changing departments I've had a much less time for social media engagement, and the majority of what little I have has been spent trying to stay abreast of the GC community's goings-on via Twitter.  My blogging has slowed to a crawl, my GCPEDIA involvement moves in and out like the tide...and GCconnex?  I've probably spent a total of 10 minutes in the last 18 months there.  Sad, given how excited I once was about the Government of Canada's own professional networking platform.


This is purely my fault, and not any particular shortcoming of GCconnex.  I still think it's a great site run on a brilliant open source platform (elgg). But something had to give, and unlike GCPEDIA I didn't seem to be getting hooked back into participation.  People still phone and email me for wiki technical support, and recently I've been chiming in on a content deletion policy.  But GCconnex?  Nothing.


Why? I logged in to find out.  Eighteen months of relative inactivity gave me some fresh eyes to see what I like and dislike about the place...  I now feel like I have a better idea of why I GCPEDIA got more of my attention, and why GCconnex was simpler to forget.



Toolbar
As I tweeted recently, I dislike that GCconnex lists all the site functions under the Tools pulldown menu, leaving the toolbar itself long and blank.  It makes me wonder: How many users leave the site without pulling down on that menu?  From a usability and clarity perspective  I like wide and shallow, and dislike having to pull a menu each time I want to go somewhere.  Show me the places I can go; allow me one click to get there.


Home

GCconnex initially deposits me at my Home page, which unfortunately is all about me.  While I've heard from others that I'm a likable and interesting person I'm not too keen to be presented with my own profile of memberships and activities (it's called the Dashboard; not the same as my actual profile seen by others.).

The Home Page/Dashboard is something that you create yourself by pulling a variety of content widgets into the page's three columns.  I like the widgets I have, but dislike that they are all about my own activity.  To edit your Dashboard widgets, press the Edit page link in the upper right corner.

Paradise on the Dashboard
In edit mode, you'll see an upper section ("Add widgets to your page") and a lower section which shows what your currently saved Dashboard looks like.  In the upper right of the page is the Widget Gallery, where you can pull a variety of content widgets to drop in one of three page columns. Grab 'em on the right side, on the four-pointed-arrow icon. Once placed, widgets can be re-ordered, moved to other columns, and pulled back to the Gallery if you don't want them anymore.

This could be a great system if the lower part of the display updated your design changes in real time.  Instead, you must press the Save button in the Add widgets section to save any changes to your widgets.  Then, you are dumped back to the Dashboard page. To make further changes to widget selection or layout you have to press the Edit page link in the upper right corner again.

The widgets themselves have settings that can be edited, either from your Dashboard or in the lower section when you are adding and arranging them.  However, only currently saved widgets appear in that lower section.  I'd recommend choosing and arranging all your widgets at once, then editing the settings later.


My widgets were already in place, but they weren't showing me what I want to see because of poor defaults and lack of configurability.


"Activity" widget
This one can be fixed. Just press on the Edit link in the upper right corner and change the dropdown list from "Mine" to "Friends".  Also, increase the number of updates to 10 or 15.  This will make a long column, so you may have to rearrange and save a few times to make a good looking Dash.  Drag the widgets from column to column and in an order that pleases you, until everything looks good.

Voilà!  My activity widget is filled with the activities of other people... which is what I'm actually interested in.  I'm not clear why my own activities are set as the default, but that should certainly be flipped in the software.  In the meantime, you may want to change them manually as I did.


"The Wire" widget
This widget, which should be able to show me comments from users on the entire site (friends and strangers) foolishly insists on showing me only my own blather.  I can change this widget's settings, but only to show me a shorter or a longer list of my own stuff.  It's not very flexible, or very sociable.


"Blog" widget
Like The Wire, this widget will only show me my own blog posts.  It should show me titles and excerpts of my friends' stuff... or even site-wide contributions.  But there's no dropdown box for that.  However, if you click on the "More blog posts" link at the bottom of the box you'll be delivered to the blog main page, where you can click on links to see other's content.  Still... it's frustrating and unnecessary.  I'd love to see all the content widgets adapt, where applicable, a Me/Friends/Everyone option, in addition to a choice of how many updates per box.


"Group activity" widget
This one needs to be configured before it displays anything, and you should review it's settings from time to time when you join new groups so that it displays the updates you are expecting.


"Requests" and "Group Invitation" widgets
Here are two that I hadn't added to my Dashboard.  I don't know if they are new additions, or if I just neglected to use my scrollbar and missed out on part of the Widget Gallery, but here are two important info boxes that belong near the top where you will notice them.


Notifications
These checkboxes are located under your user Settings in the GCconnex toolbar.   Look to the upper right of the screen; it's between your profile icon and the Log out link.

All of my notifications—personal, friend updates, group changes—were left blank.  I don't recall turning them off; I'm not sure why I would.  In any event, you have the option of receiving email notifications, site notifications or both.  I set everything for site notification to keep my Inbox clean, and I'll (honestly, sincerely) make a point to try to check in once a week (I currently try to visit GCPEDIA at least every Friday).

[rant mode off]



And there it is.  If my objectivity has ever been questioned (as former champion of the GCPEDIA Project and current, occasional contributor) I hope it's clear that I don't love the GC Social Media Tools too much to criticize them.  I still think that GCconnex can be great.  It's just clear to me that social media isn't very social when the social functions are absent, or default to off.

I like GCPEDIA because I can jump into the Recent Changes log and see what's cooking.  I like Twitter because I'm thrust into a stream of information and activity.  I can latch onto something interesting and flow with it, until the next current pulls me somewhere entirely different.

I want to feel that kind of pull when I log in to GCconnex.

What do you like or dislike about the GC's professional networking platform?
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