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Evaluating Google Wave

Posted on June 4, 2009 by Trevor
As an ecommerce company, we like to use web solutions. Obviously, the big player in that arena these days is Google. We use products like Gmail and Google Apps to help us communicate and Google Analytics to help us with our business. There are a lot of advantages to that (and some disadvantages as well, of course), but that's not what I'd like to discuss today. Instead I'd like to talk about the big news in web applications today: Google Wave. Google Wave is billed as the next generation of internet communication: as opposed to email and instant messaging--which are essentially based on traditional methods of communication (mail and telephone)--Google Wave was built from the ground up to take advantage of the specific capabilities of the internet.

Now, there's a lot of hype surrounding this launch: Google Wave is claiming to revolutionize communication and collaboration on the internet. It's likely that not all of it is justified: communication has already come a long way and there are other applications that include similar elements. Google Wave is more of a major iteration than a paradigm shift. Furthermore, the best improvements in communication are more likely not to be noticed; the whole point is for the technology to get out of the way and let people do what they want. So flashy widgets aren't usually as useful as simple interface optimizations like faster load times or making the user click less. However, there are a lot of advances in Google Wave and definite reasons to look forward to it.

So, what is Google Wave? For a complete rundown, watch the video below; however, here's my take on the application: The major advance Google Wave makes is to simultaneously support both real-time and cached messages. That is, you can immediately see changes people make, but you can also come back later and see what people have done in your absence. Now, there are "whiteboard" programs that allow multiple people to work on the same document, and it's possible to store the results for later viewing. But Google Wave fully integrates these functions, such that every message is saved. That means it caches (and you can review) not only the final document or given save points but every step in the process: if someone had a good idea that you overwrote but changed your mind about you can just step back through the changes until you find it and then insert it back into your current workflow. This fits in well with Google's "never delete anything" philosophy and allows for much more flexible collaboration. In addition, don't minimize the importance of tying this in to the rest of Google's platform, which will allow changes of all types (text, pictures, Google searches, web pages and widgets, and most likely things like maps and graphs as well) to be added. This allows communication to be much more unified, rather than requiring documents to be spread across different technologies.

Should your company use Google Wave? Well, there are a lot of advantages: increased productivity on collaborations, the possibility of remote meetings, a more unified document platform, and so on. There are possible drawbacks, however, that need to be considered before fully signing on. First, as Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility”. There's no mention of any corporate structure to Wave collaborations: any member with access to the Wave can change anything. Now, the changes are of course cached, so it is possible to go back and undo any changes made in error, but it might not be caught before the damage is done. So it's important that all of your users are mature and knowledgeable about the technology, and I'd recommend you put in place some policies about what should and should not be edited. Not only that, but you'll have to examine even more closely those documents that you plan on making public: obviously allowing the public edit access to your documents carries with it certain risks. Hopefully Google will be adding features that address these enterprise needs, but however it turns out be sure to comply with industry standards. Second, beware of overconfidence; Google Wave will not suddenly allow all your members to be clued in and harmonized on everything. It's just as easy for miscommunication (or even misdirection) to take place here as in any other conversation. Finally, of course, you'll need to think about transitional costs, both in training and migration from existing platforms. However, those things said, Google Wave is an impressive new piece of technology and we at the Gordian Project anticipate trying it out ourselves.


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