I've just spent a very pleasant and informative hour watching a YouTube of the "preview" for "Google Wave" at a web development conference.
The little YouTube vid might be one giant ad for a new product but because the product is going to be Open Source (more or less), it means that it has the potential to become one of the most revolutionary communication tools to hit our desktops and mobile devices since the advent of email!
I watched the entire presentation! That's saying something for me! I usually lose interest pretty quickly on this under the hood techy stuff. I don't fully comprehend the inner workings of the www but I like what it produces. This video presentation however, is not that dull really and there wasn't much in it I didn't understand either. I am no developer and I can't read code other than a smattering of HTML. On this video, which explains what is intended with Google Wave when it launches, I could understand the implications of - and the amazing potential - to transform live, real time 'over-the-net-at-a-distance' conversations and collaborations, with people all over the world.
Dave Pollard pinpoints the potential of Google Wave nicely in a recent post of his and I'm grateful he's shown me the link! I'm quite blown away by the potential especially for community building.
Describing Google Wave is quite possibly going to be the hardest aspect of the whole thing I think. Many of the people I associate with outside of the www - in so-called "real life" - barely seem to grasp anything other than the usual suspects of online communications such as email and Instant Messaging. Web tools such as Facebook and Twitter are slowly becoming more common amongst friends and relatives but these are also reasonably linear and static in functionality. Google Wave appears to be a zillion times more interactive than ANY social media could conceive to be, (except maybe for Second Life - which is viewed by many in my immediate circles as totall NQR as in Not-Quite-Right. I'm apparently, more than a little "weird" for being a Second Lifer in these parts).
Google Wave is going to be tough to describe to friends, co-workers and family. It will be like trying to describe a spiral staircase - without using your hands - to demonstrate that concept to someone who has never seen one before.
So what IS Google Wave? Well....... let's see if I can encapsulate it, although I think Dave's story in his blog does this better really.
It's email; it's IM; it's a wiki; it's capable of supporting many innovative applications; it can interface with multiple kinds of social media, such as Twitter and Blogger.com; it's as private as you need it to be and as public as you want it to be. You can have multiple threads across several different waves and cohere them into one wave if necessary or you can take the threads of one wave and dissect it into multiple offspring conversations that can evolve into their own waves. It even has live real-time translation of other languages built in so that conversing in someone from France or Germany, Japan or Holland will eventually become as seamless as conversing with others in English. It uses the language protocols of the web to intuitively surmise your spelling AND context as you go. You can embed photo's, blog posts, tweets, vidcasts, podcasts, documents, and whatever else the current tech allows us to do online within a wave for others to manipulate or utilise or comment on. Google Wave will make Facebook look like a chalk board I think in time. Community is now officially "Global".
I can see so much potential for this type of online interactive tool. Thing is, here in my corner of the physical, real life experience, many people don't seem to fully grasp the possibilities of tools like this. We're so used to the linear versions of snail mail, email and telephone that applications like Google Wave might remain largely under utilised for some time here, except by those in the world who are highly invested in web based technology anyway. They would most likely include corporate business privateers, web developers, online marketers and a few hobbyist bloggers like myself. For the masses who are only just now tapping into the wonders of Facebook and Twitter - Google Wave is going to have to be a real snap for people to grasp....and explain to their friends!
The beauty is that Google Wave doesn't NEED to be on every computer in order for it to work! Just like with email and IM, it won't matter which service provider you have an account with, if you have the interface....ANY kind of wave interface.... you can access whatever wave of information comes your way, even if the other users in your wave have a different interface than you! That's the really cool thing about this new tool, it's open and adaptable to the market. The sheer flexibility of that will make the product probably work very seamlessly and I guess most people will just catch on regardless if they understand it or not.
What I'm really excited about is the possibility for a collaborative learning system for isolated rural communities. If we can bring high speed broadband into the regional areas of populated Australia, applications like Google Wave will revolutionise these tiny communities to strengthen relationships not just online but also within their own real world settings.
For example, communities can communicate with elected members of Parliament, educators and health advisors more efficiently. Kids won't need to leave their communities to go to Uni unless they really want to. Small business can have markets that don't rely on local populations to sustain them. And, I think there'd be a whole raft of conversations between linked rural hubs where meetings, networks, and grass-roots social exchanges would take place.
For example, someone says on a Wave, "Let's go down to the local hall and play 500 next week to raise money for the childcare centre"... from that one question, local members of the community can plan, iterate, select, argue, debate, execute all the required planning needed for the project to happen all within the Wave itself, where everyone can participate either in real time or when they log on later. Google Wave has the ability to allow people to "play-back" the threads of conversations they have come in on half way through. That way they can catch up with the conversation and they'll know exactly how it has played out so far. No more having to attend meetings physically to arrange community meetings! Wow!
This will not only save small communities a lot of time, it will revolutionise the way we plan and conduct meetings. We will still meet! But the getting to meeting will be handled more effectively via tools like Google Wave. It's not about replacing face-to-face, it's about having access and more importantly, input, into the process of conversation that will make the difference. The success of actual face-to-face will be that much greater as people will still effectively have been included in the process and the conversations for making that event happen.
If you have enough bandwidth to view the presentation, I heartily recommend you do. Google Wave is set to launch late 2009.