Monday, November 30, 2009

When thinking Google Ambassadors don't forget the Google Student Ambassadors

Students spread the Google Gospel

Web giant recruits college students to show their peers how to use Google applications for homework and exams. By Dennis Carter, Assistant Editor, eSchool News Online

Boise State University senior and self-described Google fanatic Taylor Bell landed his dream job this semester when the internet mega-site hired him as an ambassador, charged with evangelizing Google's array of applications to tech-hungry college students.

Google has 121 ambassadors on 69 campuses nationwide after sifting through thousands of applications and awarding the company's first ambassadorships to students last year. The Google student representatives are not paid, but they are rewarded with free water bottles and T-shirts, said Miriam Schneider, a product marketing manager for Google.

Google delivers online tutorials to its ambassadors, showing what features they should pitch to students in on-campus meetings.

Bell said a recent lesson he gave to a group of Boise State football players showed how they can collaborate in groups of up to 10 people using Google Docs, an application that lets students create a study sheet in real time in remote locations, for example.

"It kind of blows their minds a little bit," said Bell, 25, a communications major. "A lot of people didn't have any idea you could do some of these things. … I don't think they realize how powerful some of these tools really are."

Schneider said spreading the word during major product rollouts like Google Wave--an application that allows for real-time communication using videos, maps, photos, and text--helps the company create tools that better cater to students, a demographic that often uses Google products before the general public.

"We want [ambassadors] to really be foot soldiers on campus … who are the early adopters," Schneider said. "It's important for us to know exactly how students are using our products … and to build a bridge between Google and the people who are actually using the products. For us, it really shapes the way the products are developed."

Google's student outreach isn't limited to the college campuses staffed with ambassadors. The company has launched a Twitter page, a blog, a Facebook page, and a YouTube channel all dedicated to communicating with students.

The company uses the blog to push applications that can be useful in the lecture hall and during late-night library study sessions.

On Nov. 17, a Google blog post trumpeted the launch of Google Sites templates, described as "pre-packaged sites that anyone can use to make creating your own web site even easier."

"This is especially valuable for students so that when you're making your site you can now skip a few steps, and instead of making a site from scratch, start with a template," the blog says. "You can use site templates to organize, publish, and share information about your school, class, projects, fraternity or sorority, school club, intramural teams, or any other organization or event."

Google invited a handful of students, including Bell and Daniel Miller, a Google ambassador at the University of Washington, to the annual EDUCAUSE conference in Denver Nov. 3-6. Students manned the mammoth Google both on the conference's exhibit floor and helped answer questions from passersby. Miller said he has helped Washington students create an exam study guide in Google Docs, a program they were only somewhat familiar with.

"I sort of walked them through it at first," Miller said, "and they took to it and really figured it out."
To qualify for a Google ambassadorship--which lasts one academic year--applicants must be enrolled in a North American college or university, demonstrate passion for technology, and commit to about five hours a month for planning Google events on campus. Each ambassador is expected to host three to four events during the school year.

Bell said his ambassadorship proves that Google doesn't judge applications solely by grade point average. With a GPA under 3.0, Bell thought his chances were slim, but he wrote about his decade-long study of Google's rise to prominence in his online application--a strategy he believes clinched his ambassadorship. "I wasn't trying to just write anything they wanted to hear," Bell said.

Bell's loyalty to the search giant was evident in 2004, when Google unveiled its eMail program, called Gmail. Gmail subscriptions were only available through online invites on a limited basis, so Bell paid someone $5 through PayPal to eMail him an invitation.

"I knew that Gmail was going to be huge, and I'm the type of person who has to get in on the ground floor," he said. "It's fast and it's simple, and I haven't looked back since."

Being Boise State's Google go-to, Bell said, hopefully will evolve into a full-time, post-college job with the company.

"My passion for technology mixed with my love of continued education really connects with [Google's] message," he said. "I can't help but have a huge grin on my face whenever I talk about it."


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