Google Wave – The future of collaboration?
Earlier this month, Google announced Google Wave, a new model for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year. I believe it has the potential to revolutionize the way people interact and learn, so in case you are in the handful of people who missed it here are some links to the launch and a few thoughts on its impact.
Google Wave is startling in its simplicity, yet astounding in its capability. At its simplest it is ‘email on steroids’.: it adds IM to email to allow real time chat on an otherwise back and forth email exchange, plus document sharing and collaboration (blogs, wikis, commenting). The interface even looks pretty familiar. What is so astounding?
The 90 minute video demonstrating the application had so many ‘ah ha’ moments for me it was crazy. Google Wave was invented by the guys who invented Google Maps, so it has a good pedigree. They’ve spent the last two years completely rethinking collaboration. The standout features for me are:
authoring – two people (or six or 20) can edit the same document simultaneously. No more passing documents back and fro, checking in, checking out. You all open the document at the same time and type as if you were the only one editing. Your typing and everyone else’s shows up in real time in the document. Cut, paste, add, delete all in real time. When Google Wave is released this functionality will extend to spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
The names of the participants are shown on screen as people type. You can literally edit a sentence as they are typing it.
· Live Publication – so you publish your document to a blog, or a web site; it is still live. You edit the Wave, the document is instantly updated – and vice versa.
No need to leave Google Wave to make the changes. You are where you work and you work where you are.
This could fundamentally transform the way we develop content and manuals at HDS. Talk about fast capture of intellectual property in the services organization: an engineer updates the install document, and it is available instantly, everywhere. Did I mention that there is already support for Google Wave on PDAs including iPhone?
· Playback – The technology under the covers that enables simultaneous authoring enables entire message strings, conversations or document creation/editing sessions to be played back under full user control. Want to know how a document evolved, or what was added before or after what? Want to see what the document was like yesterday? Or last week? Just move the slider.
· Open Source and Extensible – (almost) the entire code base is going to be open sourced and there is a robust API making Google Wave full extensible by anyone. The
· Contextual spell check – Google Wave functionality can be extended through ‘robots’: code that can participate in a conversation. One of the robots demonstrated is called ‘spelly’. Unsurprisingly it is a spell checker, but unlike normal spell checkers it uses the full context of the indexed web to make intelligent decisions. The example shown in the video is the phrase ‘Icland is an icland’ is automatically corrected to ‘Iceland is an island’.
· Real-time translation – by harnessing the power of Google Translate, Google Wave has the ability to translate chat in real time showing the translated and un-translated text next to each other. This includes full support for right-to-left languages and IME languages like Chinese. Clearly it isn’t going to be perfect, but looks damned impressive.
· Federation – “but I don’t want all my documents stored on a Google server,” you say. The Google Wave code base is being released as open source so companies can set up their own Google Wave server. If all the participants in a Wave are on the same server, the Wave will never leave the server. But – like email – there is no restriction on who you can add to the Wave, so document sharing outside the firewall is trivial.
There is a whole lot more in the video; I’m still trying to get my head around the improvements to our work processes that could be enabled by a technology like this. Courseware development, technical publications documentation, GSS IP capture, software development, collaborative trouble shooting, OTJ training, post-course follow up and assignments – the list of impacted processes is huge.
The downsides? This is still an early beta product and some fundamental questions still remain unanswered – such as off line working (Google Gears updated with a telepathy interface?) Some people will say that you can get much of this in social platforms today – email, IM, blogs, wikis. That may be true, but Google has instantly eliminated the artificial distinction between those things, made them behave the way that humans naturally interact and redefined the future.
You can watch the developer preview video here
Now if only we had Google Wave you’d be able to have a real time conversation and edit this message, right here, right now. Guess we’ll have to wait. Or leave a comment on my blog.