Article written for the IT Informer, IT for the Aged Care Industry.
Google Wave is an online platform for real-time collaboration and communication. By "platform" we mean that it is a foundation upon which other people can build specific extensions to its features.
Wave combines email, instant messaging, web chat, social networking and project management. The "waves" are like a travelling group, narrating an event, and speaking to and collecting and losing people along the way. This is represented on your screen as a "wave". The actual wave is, in the end, a document which maps that journey and can be saved and searched in various ways. (Keep this analogy in mind, and also that it is being recorded and documented every step of the journey.)
More precisely a Wave is said to be a "threaded conversation" - it is a documented conversation like a chat with a group of people and "threaded" into the conversation are other links and documents and applications that work within the wave. It's kind of complex to get your head around Google Wave, although what it offers is something that should be quite simple to grasp if he had just started with the concept before email, for example.
We've grown up with email and email usage, as a set of discrete and non-real time transactions, is what we tend to understand as the "norm" of business communication. We send about 250 billion emails a day - but the basics of email haven't evolved much since the first one was sent in 1971. When you stop to think about email we use it for many different purposes - for commmunication, for documentation, for messaging, for transferring documents, and for keeping a track of a project or set of interactions, for example.
You have probably all at one time or another sent an email and hoped that the person you are sending it to is going to receive it and read it and respond to it very quickly - you actually hope this might be "in real time". This is using email as "chat", and for this it is not very effective. You have all stored a sequence of emails in a folder or tagged them in a consistent way in order to track a project or transaction and in this way email is being used as a record of interactions. This usually has its flaws and bit and pieces get lost and searches and requests are made to track down missing elements and records.
You have all sent emails to multiple receivers and asked for responses and then battled through the flow of responses to try and make sense of their sequence and context. The most important conceptual difference between Wave and email is that as much as we might HOPE that the person at the other end of an email might be there and might read and "instantly" respond the fact is that email is "send-wait-receive at some indeterminant time in the future".
Technically speaking it is "asynchronous" communication because you cannot force the other party to engage at a specific point in the conversation. Real-time chat is synchronous, because if it were not the "chat" no longer exists as a chat.
Google Wave breaks down the distinction between synchromous and asynchronous communication tools while preserving the basic form of the threaded discussion. This has strong potential for adaption and adoption in many spheres, including e-learning for example. Google Wave is the next step beyond email and handles all these stretched uses of email in a more natural and effective way.
In fact Google's answer to the email problems is preciely Google Wave - billed as "what email would look like if it were invented today".
For example email itself can easily be attached to a Wave - a conversation about a topic. In fact in the Wave implentation emails and other computer objects - attachments and documents and maps for example - can just be dragged and dropped into a conversation.
The important concept to appreciate here is TIME. The time at which these items are dropped into the conversation is recorded and is as important as all the conversations around those documents at that time, and before and after. In fact TIME is a key theme of Googe Wave. All conversations can be "played back".
So think of this - how often have you been asked to bring someone into the loop of how a certain situation or offer or point of negotation has developed. This kind of briefing can be quite complicated if you wish to do it blow by blow and factually - so we usually just "bring them up to speed" with a summary of "where we are at". With Wave you just give them access to the particular conversation and they can play and replay at their own pace to understand the entire development in it's totality.
Whole waves of conversation can be embedded in any website, or wiki, or internal intranet - allowing public collaboration, or private project development. To round out the conceptual understanding of Google Wave, it is important to know that it is an "open source" initiative, which means programmers can develop applications for other Wave users to use, or which operate within their own waves, and that many Google Gadgets" and other "applications and extensions" are rapidly appearing to enhance the basic Google Wave conversations.
For example there are games which are embedded in a wave and in this way surround themselves with conversations about the game, there are applications to track certain names or product references which crop up in conversations and report back in real time news or social media references to those terms. There are applications which allow everyone to call each other and join in voice discussions about a conversation. There are applications which display tweets within a conversation or Facebook status updates within a conversation.
So whoa whoa whoa you say - I'm getting lost, what is it we can do with Wave?
Wave supports real-time collaboration - it is built around live concurrent collaboration. One of the technical challenges in doing this is to figure out how to allow many people to edit the same documents at the same time - Google has solved this through complex transformation processes in the background. Another technical challenge solved as a result of this is the intended ability of Google Wave to communicate instantly "character by character" rather than line by line or phrase by phrase as with other "instant messaging" systems. It is this kind of "real-time" interaction which is part of the "DNA" of Google Wave and defines it's special character as a collaborative system. This had not been achieved before on a platform as rish as Google Wave.
In particular Waves can transcend time-zones in a very fluid way, and people starting up in new time-zones can replay the entire detailed conversation since they were last connected. Here are some examples of how Wave can be put to work:
- For a public conference e.g. ITAC, you can set up a wave which then allows people at the conference and people not at the conference - globally - to interact about the conference, and don't forget that you can "drop-in" in real-time all the conference "artifacts" - presentations, movies, live video streams, etc etc. Here's what happened at a conference where Wave was part of it: an audience member would create a Google Wave and others in the audience would edit the wave during the presentation. The result would be a crowd-sourced write-up of the presentation: a transcript of key points and a record of audience comments.'
- For a private project you can set up a private wave, invite colleagues and partners both within and outside your firm, and develop a timelined conversation including dropping in emails, documents and other relevant matetial, and you can later bring in more people and they can play back the project conversation and rapidly participate. YOu could also ask students to take on different roles in a Wave like note-taker, questioner, and ‘Grammar Master'.
- Teachers can run private online lessons with their prepared online materials, students all participating in the lesson Wave in real time and in sequence, and with gadgets with gather relevant material from the web in real-time and as relevant to discussions eg from Wikipedia, and later students can play back the entire conversation for revision.
Google Wave has a particularly strong card to play in its facilitation of "fluid grouping" - the ability for people to form spontaneously around a conversation, and for a conversation to be dynamic in membership. In Wave, creating a new "group space" or Wave is no more complicated than adding people to an email you are sending out.
It's power is already shaping journalism and the newspaper industry, with the Chicago Now newspaper doing daily Waves of its cover stories every weekday at 10:30am. When each daily wave is opened readers can comment and interact with Chicago Now editors and each other.
Still, Wave is only in a beta or preview state at the moment. And the principle sounds promising. You can imagine using it to collaborate on a article (we nearly wrote this one that way) - someone could write a section, others could comment or edit sentence-by-sentence, and there would be a permanent record of who made what changes and, most importantly, why. Or a project team could use it to keep a record of issues and their resolutions. It's so powerful that you can run mini programs inside the Wave - an opinion poll, for instance, or a calendar.
Its uses are still being imagined!
Note 1: Google Wave was a project of the Australian Office of Google - congratulations to our local Aussie team.
Note 2: There's a handy video at http://wave.google.com/help/wave/about.html#video which is the best way to get to grips with it.
Note 3: 5 Impressive Real-Life Google Wave Use Cases, from Mashable, worth a look for sure: http://mashable.com/2009/11/14/google-wave-use-cases/
Note 4: Google Wave Extensions: http://www.wextensions.com/category/google-wave-ideas/