Does Google’s $3.2 billion dollar acquisition of Nest Labs have any relevance to higher education?
Why should it matter to us if Google buys a maker of fancy thermostats and smoke detectors?
Drawing a connection between Nest and the Google / higher ed potential requires a few leaps.
Let me paint a picture for you (and hopefully some people at Google), and you can tell me where I’m wrong.
The Network of Things:
The Nest acquisitions makes good sense for Google as Nest is at the forefront of the network of things. Devices that run on data. Devices that produce data. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google follow-up its Nest acquisition with the purchase of a wearable computing company. Fitbit maybe?
Higher ed is will be an important domain in which the network of things story gets told. We use lots of hardware. And that hardware is increasingly connected to the Internet.
The most obvious example is presentation capture. If Google will buy Nest, why not Echo360? Echo360 produces a device, an appliance, designed to capture course videos and presentations. That device talks to the Echo server software (through the network), which then processes, streams, and collects analytics on how the content is used. Tons of data are produced. That data tells a story.
If Google is willing to bring Nest into its ecosystem, why not a presentation capture company? Imagine the power of YouTube as the distributor of the course media?
How far a leap is it to connect the ability to capture course materials with the option to openly share course materials? A professor could choose to keep her lectures and presentation private, or immediately open her teaching to world of lifelong learners through YouTube EDU.
Surely all the video captured on campus, all the teaching and presentations that occur through all of our institutions, falls under Google’s mission to "organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
A Willingness to Let Companies Stay Independent:
In the past it seems that Google wanted to stay away from any vertical markets. Google produced platforms that were useful across industries.
The Nest acquisition signals a new flexibility.
Google will allow Nest Labs to stay independent. Where it makes sense to fold Nest into the Google ecosystem, and utilize the Google infrastructure, they will do so.
This approach opens the door for Google to acquire edtech companies. Keep them independent. Leverage the potential of data and large scale infrastructure to improve efficiency.
Google should be looking at edtech companies that fit the company’s larger mission of transforming services from scarcity to abundance.
Google should ask, what educational opportunities are now scarce that we can utilize our scale and business model to make abundant?
The Nest acquisition could be a template for this sort of work in higher ed.