Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

What’s the deal with Google Wave?

Posted in online collaborative spaces, self-organization by Bas Reus on July 2, 2009

This question I asked myself when I first heard of Wave. This new tool of Google can be very interesting, because it’s main purpose is to help people communicate and collaborate on the web. Communication and collaboration on the web is becoming more relevant because companies are beginning to embrace the importance of it for the way their employees can work together.

Google_Wave_logo

The product is not yet released, but it will be later this year. Therefore it is difficult to grasp the potential importance of it already. The Google descriptions are quite technical of nature. Of course, technological changes can work as an enabler, but cannot work without the human factor. Many questions pop up in my mind. Which people are going to use this tool? And for what purposes will it be used? Groups of people that work on a professional project, or people that try to organize a birthday party?

The most recent tool that made it to a relatively large audience is Twitter. But Twitter evolved strongly from the start. People started to develop their own codes that were picked-up by Twitter, such as RT for re-tweeting. Could it be that the people who will use Wave will change the original purposes of using Google Wave, on a scale that happened at Twitter?

In short, this is what Google claims it to be:

  • Google Wave consists of three layers, a product, a platform and a protocol.
  • A “wave” is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

The product is the webapplication, the platform is the API, and the protocol is how it works in terms of storing and sharing data. Waves are conversations where multiple people can participate by writing text, sharing photo’s and video’s, and all realtime. When you start a wave, you invite people to it. They are then part of the conversation. The development team says the following:

Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web. They can insert a reply or edit the wave directly. It’s concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave. That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content — it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use “playback” to rewind the wave and see how it evolved.

According to Google, it’s more like how e-mail would be if it was invented today, by combining all sorts of communication possibilities. It shows a lot of similarities with hosted projectmanagement tools like Basecamp, but has more possibilities.

To return to the question I stated above, it is not answered yet. Are people going to use the product to communicate and collaborate? Does it make other existing products like e-mail superfluous? Is it going to change the way people work? Are people going to change the way the Google Wave works? Who will tell… Of course e-mail has it’s limitations. It works quite good for a small group of people working together. It becomes quite difficult when documents are sent for review and multiple versions exist. It becomes impossible, or at least very inefficient, when a very large group of people is involved. A wiki page works better in these scenario’s. On the other hand, instant messaging works best with only two people involved.

Potential benefits:

  • working together in large groups could be easier with Wave
  • other great implementations because of the open API and protocol
  • history of conversations are easy to follow
  • webbased, so accessible for anyone (with a modern browser)

Questions unanswered:

  • is this a replacement for e-mail?
  • will it change the way people communicate on the web?
  • for which groups of people is Google Wave best suited?
  • for what purposes will Google Wave work best?
  • how will ‘competitiors’ react?

Many questions remain unanswered right now. The near future will probably answer some, when it will be released to more people. My early conclusion is that Google Wave is developed to enable others to build products on the platform and protocol that will be released. The webapplication that Google already is working on, is a great example on how the platform and protocol can be used. It’s probably not the one-size-fits-all solution for communication and collaboration on the web. Is Google trying to? Is the interface that good that it will be super intiutive? The question I will keep on asking myself (and you) is how people are willing to use this tool in order to get their things done. When will many people favor Wave instead of classic e-mail which is used by everyone? Under what circumstances will Wave work best, and when will it typically not work at all? Will it be useful for large teams within organizations? Are wiki’s becoming more easy to use with Wave? To be continued…

This blogpost is the first of this weblog. This weblog is part of a personal quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces. Posts on this weblog will address current trends as well as more scientific orientated subjects like self-organization, autopoiesis and stigmergy. I hope this blog will help me in my journey on these subjects, and that you readers will have a good time reading it as well as getting inspired by it! Cheers, Bas Reus.

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