Really Riding Google Wave

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.

Real Time Collaboration and Discussion = Decision Making

Real Time Collaboration and Discussion = Decision Making

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.

Wave in Post

Wave in Post

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.

Horizontal Contributions

Since I am thinking in a very Google Wave like mode I thought I’d share another thought related to the tectonic change that platform may inspire. In the days after watching the video of the Wave demo I’ve been finding myself thinking about how much of our online cnversations we are missing. In the Universe the Wave has led us to conversations happen in lots of places, but are instantly available in one central place — the Wave client. What I mean is that I can start a Wave, embed it in a page, and let people contribute from all over the place. The power in what I am understanding this whole thing to look like is that these contributions are not only available in the context of the submission (perhaps a comment on an embedded wave on a blog), but also in the original Wave. What I am pulling from this is that I can, via my Wave client, revisit my social contributions in context without revisiting all the sites. Just this idea has me really spinning.

So if I apply this to the notion of the traditional blogging platform I can see where this could be really important. Here at PSU we promote our Blogs at Penn State as a publishing platform … one that is powering new forms of ePortfolios. Last summer while working with Carla Zembal-Saul we explored and shared the idea that the portfolio is more than a single person’s thinking, but also a place to engage conversations. So if we look at the fact that someone commenting enhances my own artifact, then shouldn’t we think about the comments we leave elsewhere as part of our overall evidence as well?

If I think about it, lots of times I stumble across an old blog post someone created that I’ve commented on at one point and I’ve forgotten. Sometimes I read those comments and think that I should have a way to move that content back into my own space — even if it means I can only review it out of the context of the original post. With all that said, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll call horizontal contributions. In a vertical sense we contribute original posts in our own space and people comment on them. Then if I show up at your blog, I can contribute a comment in that same vertical sense. In a horizontal model I have some sort of tracking that allows me to see not only all my own posts, but also my comments across the entire web. This would give an opportunity to gather these as further evidence of my overall contributions online.

This isn’t Wave specific per se as there are third party commenting engines that do stuff like this — if everyone on the social web used them. I’m not promoting a tool like Disqus for general use, but in an environment like ours we could easily replace our MT commenting engine with a third party one. It would be integrated into the templates so it would be invisible to users. What would need to happen is shibboleth integration, but we’ve done that before. I think it is something we’ll explore … and if we do I’ll be sure to share what we find. What do you think about this thinking? Crazy talk or is there something to it?

More Waving

Thanks much for the comments from yesterday’s post! Seems there is real interest in the Google Wave platform out there in ed tech land. One thing that is striking me as interesting are the number of comments I’m getting these days via Twitter … what excites me is that people are reading in the moment and are compelled to share a short thought with me.

@colecamplese great commentary cole. Thanks for translating to .edu space! (from @Clifhirtle)

What concerns me is that these are comments that could potentially move the conversation further if left within the context of the blog post. And in that statement I am making the case for what I understand Wave to be — a platflorm that will allow for in stream communication that will filter back into context. This is amazing to me in and of itself. Today I figured out that it will be relatively easy for us to run our own Wave instance … this will (presumably) give us a layer of control that could empower a whole new level of openness and conversation in our classrooms.

The old thinking of commenting where I need you to could be destroyed — and that is an amazingly scary thought. I love it.

The big talk across the edublog space is that it could mean the end of the LMS. I’ll just say it, that’s crazy talk. What it probably means is that we might get a better footing in the LMS contract world and that we’ll have new opportunities to innovate. This platform can do quite a bit for us in the teaching and learning space, but as far as I can tell it probably will not be suited for testing on a real scale and it probably cannot replace the basics of the LMS definition — learner management. We need the LMS to do lots of things, but we also need new tools to support pedagogy that works to engage students. I think Wave will begin to even the playing field so that we have easy to use teaching and learning platforms alongside our real need to manage assessment, participation, and the like. Wave represents a new opportunity.

I am thinking quite a bit about a post by colleague Michael Feldstein … I think it and the comments should be part of any of our push to understand these changes. Its worth a read and a discussion. As always I am happy to hear thoughts!