Its been several weeks now that I’ve had a developer account on Google’s sandbox implementation of Wave and thought I’d share some more thoughts than the random tweets. I hope I’m not violating any sort of NDA by doing this because I think it is important to start the dialogue on something as potentially transformative as Wave as early as possible. Let me start by saying that when I first got my account I was extremely underwhelmed for a few reasons, but after using it now for weeks I am converted and find myself extremely frustrated that it isn’t really ready for wide release. The primary reason I was underwhelmed was that I had no one to work Wave with … sure there were hundreds of developers in there, but no one that I would participate with in any meaningful way. Wave is a collaborative platform and without collaborators it is close to useless. Now that a couple of ETS colleagues are also in the developer release I can say I am sold.
Real Time Rocks
Chat has always been useful, but in the context of a Wave the notion of real time conversation is kicked into a whole new dimension. I can’t overstate this enough, the ability to co-author a document and work through decision making is game changing. I’ve been using Google Docs as my writing platform for a couple of years now — going so far in the last 18 months of eliminating Office from my laptop. Wave gives you an even easier way to manage collaboration and collaborators through a drag and drop interface for adding people to the document. The thing that blows it all up (in a good way) is the ability to drop out of the flow of the document and have a real time threaded conversation but still within the framework of the document itself. Brad Kozlek and I worked through an idea in a single Wave the other day that would have taken hours and dozens of emails instead of the 15 minutes it took by doing it in Wave. Real time workflow is the thing that has me craving more people in my network.
If you are using Wave by yourself you’ll never get it. I think of how different it has been since Chris Millet and Brad have gotten their accounts … we were sitting in a meeting the other day with a shared Google Doc running and we were all stepping on each others’ edits. I started a single Wave shared with Chris and Brad that allowed us to take notes in our own way within the same document without a real worry about formatting or placement. When lots of people get into a single Google Doc things can get messy, but it seems more well contained in a Wave.
I am really excited about how this will play out in a class. I can easily envision a Wave shared with a group of students that will let them take notes, have conversations, share resources, and be generally engaged behind their screens. If I think of what made the Twitter usage so powerful last time I taught I can easily map a more interesting and longer lasting scenario onto a shared class Wave. Students were using Twitter to mostly share resources, give each other encouragement, and to have sidebar conversations … in the Wave all that happens, but it is a shared document that can be revisited within the context of a larger learning opportunity. I’ve been lamenting how disconnected the Twitter channel feels after the event has occurred … with a Wave, I think you have a more lasting artifact that is a hybrid of the “in the moment” Twitter activity and the reflective blog post that happens after the learning. I am very eager to see this with a much larger group within a learning environment.
Extensions are Crazy
One of the things I am still wrapping my head around is how easy it seems to be to do interactive things within a given Wave. If you’ve not seen the demo the Wave team gave then you are missing out on seeing how easy it is to insert small pieces of interactive content that allows you to extend the metaphor of a document into a more robust and engaging environment. It is hard to explain, but imagine a group of students taking collaborative notes, having a conversation, and being able to plot their work on a graph all at the same time within the same Wave. Think about asking questions and having them answer with a single click within a Wave … the whole thing just bends the idea of what it means to work in a single space. Brad was able to publish his Wave into his Penn State blog without a whole lot of trouble … that is interesting, but the same functionality you have within the Wave environment itself is then instantly available from within his blog post. What that means is that whatever you can do within the Wave, you can do from within his blog.
What all this means to me is that (a) I am now ruined until the Wave really comes out and (b) I can’t imagine going back to other environments for doing collaboration. Is it a bigger leap than Google Docs were for writing when it hit as Writely years ago? Perhaps. The problem I see is that I am still asking people if they use Docs and they say no. I can’t imagine at this point of passing around a Word document to get business done and I know for a fact I won’t want to send emails and use Docs when we can do real time collaboration and conversation in a Wave. Getting from here to a time when this is how we all work will be difficult. Honestly, I can say that this is the next big game changer and once it hits going back to the old way will be very, very difficult.