Google Wave is already making ripples

9 Nov

November 9, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

Never ones to sit still, the innovative folks at Google are rolling out another product that’s got the tech world buzzing.

It’s Google Wave, a personal communication and collaboration tool that, like other Google services, is hosted online (you don’t download the program to your computer). It’s also free.

According to the development team (from a video at wave.google.com), Wave is what email would be if email was invented today. It draws upon all the applications that are out there, including email, chat, video, photo sharing and more, and combines them into a package that is greater than the sum of its many parts.

First, think of your old email system. A series of messages, in chronological order, that are tricky to sort and often hard to find, when you need a specific message.

Wave is totally different. It is both conversation and document, combining the spontaneity of instant messaging with the permanence of email. It is accessed by a group of users – a business office, for example, or an extended family planning a reunion – who log on and communicate simultaneously. It begins as a single message, yes, but others can add comments, additional messages, and other visual elements – all with attribution.

It’s far more advanced than the old method of storing a document on a shared server. With Wave, everyone is accessing the document at the same time, their changes appearing in the window live, as each keystroke is made. On that note, it is even faster than chat programs, which show a ‘Jim is typing’ message until that person hits ‘send’.

If someone wants to insert a photo, you just click and drag it from your desktop. It’s equally easy to add videos, links to other sites, or a location on Google Maps. In no time and with minimal effort, users can create a richly-formatted document. It’s not one-way messaging, it’s open-ended communication among multiple users.

With all hands adding and editing content, a document can get a bit busy, especially for someone arriving late to the group. At any time, you can click ‘rewind’ and watch the wave’s progression from the beginning, displaying who added what, and when.

Very, very clever. There’s more, including a built-in spell-checker that uses the entire web as its dictionary, correcting mistakes based on their context (that is, it should know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’). A translation bot enables people who speak different languages to chat together, translating in real time. Wave also works from mobile phones and is open-sourced, like Facebook, so other developers can build widgets to work within the application.

Kristen Pike works with Clear Risk, a risk management company that is hosted at the Genesis Centre, a business incubator in St. John’s. They are marketing an online risk management and planning application, and are giving Google Wave a test drive.

“We launched our online product in September, and are using Google Wave to discuss and manage the application,” Pike said. “We have the business side and the programming side, and we work separately and together at the same time, so we are using it for all sorts of real-time collaboration. It has a ton of features. We’re using it to collaborate between departments.”

Pike said Wave is functional, but also fun.

“I love it. It’s easier than email for managing a conversation. For example, if someone arrives new to the group, you just give them access to the entire wave, and they can quickly review how the discussion evolved. It’s hard to reconstruct that kind of thread with conventional email. Even though it’s similar in concept to everything we’ve been using these last few years, it brings them all together in a way that is totally new and different.”

I worked for several years with an agency, where everyone on a creative team was jammed together and told to come up with concepts. Sometimes, creativity can’t be scheduled. Google Wave is an ideal way to cultivate and harvest creative ideas according to everyone’s personal schedule, be it 10 in the morning, after coffee, or 10 at night, after a drink of scotch.

If you communicate occasionally on email, with just a few people, you will find some advantages to Google Wave. However, if you work or play as part of a large group of connected individuals, this application will blow you away.

Google Wave is being rolled out gradually and is not yet widely available. To request an invitation to use the application, go to wave.google.com.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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