Mucking Around in the Google Lab

Put on your labcoats! Reading Julia's recent post about Going Google inspired me to spend a bit of time looking at some of the marginalia of Google. In particular, Google IG themes. If you've gone Google and you use Gmail, calendar, documents, etc. you've probably noticed that when you go to the Google home page (www.google.com) it redirects you to www.google.com/ig - your "individualized Google." While the subject of personal home pages is an interesting one - and I've written about it at other times - themes for Google IG is a feature I've used (swapping out different ones) but never really explored.

Today I spent about half and hour looking at the simplist way to create a theme. Google has a sort of light version (based pretty much on a wysiwyg editor) and a more complex version for developers. For now, I just looked at the light one. The process is simple:

  1. Upload an image that is 175px tall (mine was about 1400 px wide which turned out to be too wide; next time I'll make it about 800 px);
  2. Choose a color for the font and for the elements on your Google IG page - a limited palatte, but usable; and
  3. Give your theme a name, sign off that it is yours, and its live
    (*Google notes it takes a day or two to end up in the directory)

And so, in less than an hour, I went from using someone else's theme, to a brand new Clarity Innovations theme!

Without a doubt it leaves something to be desired, but for a few minutes work (and a little playing around with Adobe Illustrator to create the image) it is up and usable. As I mentioned earlier, there is a much more robust version for developers. In actuality, it doesn't look that difficult to use; more or less just editing an XML file and uploading images to a server. I'll probably give that one a try before long. For the most part, it looks like the developer version is different from the wysiwyg version in a similar way that cascading style sheets are different than inline styles; you sort of get the same effect, but the former is much more robust and usable than the other.

So, why might this be important for education? Well, I can see a wealth of options. The simplist might be as an introduction to Google services or html programming. The code isn't very sophisticated at all and I'd say middle schoolers or younger could easily handle the wysiwyg editor. If I were still in the classroom working with history or other social studies classrooms, creating a theme would be an excellent way to get students doing a bit of research, learning to use technology and, finally, incorporating some of Google's services - by building their own tab of research. Needless to say, this isn't a revolutionary tool but it is a great way to spend a bit of time tinkering in the lab.