Google Wave, launched into the wild frontiers of cyberspace recently, has commenced its journey. NetSpeak explores the potential/possibilities of this awesome new collaboration tool from Google.
The Net enables us to do collaborative tasks with ease — but only with a series of tools/services. During the different phases of a collaborative project we rope in appropriate services. For instance, somebody coordinating a project may use e-mail to send notes and other project related information to team-members.
A few e-mails back and forth might settle this part.
Soon, the coordinator and his/her team might find e-mail quite insufficient to continue the collaboration. Its asynchronous nature makes real-time communication impossible. In addition, a person who chips in at a later stage may find it difficult to keep up with the ongoing email conversation — as there exists no means to provide him with all the threads.
So, the next step is to adopt other collaboration tools — Instant Messenger (IM) tools such as Gtalk/Skype, collaborative editing services such as ‘Google Docs’. In this way, by slicing and dicing different tools, one manages to accomplish the task.
During the course of this communication process, many valuable data get generated. However, as the data are spread across different locations/databases — some in the e-mail clients, some in the IM server and some in the document management system, the team will find it difficult to oragnise them into a cohesive information product. If only we could accomplish everything with a single tool, the communication/collaboration efficiency of the team will then experience a quantum leap. This, in a nutshell, is exactly what Google Wave offers.
Google Wave can be described as a communication/collaboration tool in which products like e-mail, IM, discussion board and Wiki are rolled into one. Though it can be considered a mix of these products, the final outcome is much more than sum of its components — they are all combined in a synergetic fashion.
Once logged on to the Wave infrastructure (https://wave.google.com/wave/), you will find the Wave creation interface. (You now need an invite to participate on Google Wave). Once a Wave is created, you can simply add participants using the ‘+’ button. Now, the fun begins! All the participants who are now on-line and on the Wave window can actively interact in real-time. Yes, for Google Wave the significance lies in real-time participation — real-time e-mail, real-time chat, real-time editing and so on.
When a participant types something, each of the characters entered becomes visible to all the participants. So, in the middle of his/her sentence itself you may understand the intention of your buddy and can answer his/her query before it arrives in full.
Being a hosted service, the Wave thus created (with all its historic details) will be available to all the participants as and when they need it. Another advantage of the Wave is that a new participant can join the discussion at any point of time. Unlike in the traditional e-mail, this late entrant will not miss out on information history.
The facility that lets a participant edit anywhere on the Wave anytime is another valuable feature. A Wave can contain numerous messages from its participants. The interesting feature is that one can reply to any of these messages and create a threaded conversation based on that message.
A Wave is an extremely dynamic entity that always gets enriched through the collaboration process. You can easily attach images and other documents. As you drop files on a Wave, they become immediately accessible to all the participants.
A great feature of Google Wave is the extension facility that enables developers across the world to enhance its functionality. Extensions come in two forms — gadgets and robots. A gadget is nothing but a small application that can be integrated with a Wave — like the google maps gadget.
Robots (http://code.google.com/apis/wave/extensions/robots/index.html) are software based automated participants made for a specific purpose like IM bots. To use a robot, you just need its address (it looks like an e-mail id).
Another Wave feature worth a mention is the ability to connect to other data sources like Twitter (http://wave-samples-gallery.appspot.com/about_app?app_id=5002).
The facility to embed a Wave on web pages/blogs is another innovation worth watching. This feature allows one to spread multiple communication channels to different data sources and funnel information from each of them without ever visiting them. (NetSpeak has not tested this particular facility so far.)
Google Wave becomes more enjoyable if you have more participants to play with. One shortcoming of this service at present is that not many users have access to it. So, now even people with accounts find it difficult to explore the tool in full. One solution could be to access public waves — waves available to anyone with a Google Wave account. To obtain a list of available public waves, do a search with the string ‘with:public’ on your Wave search box.
Google Wave is not an ordinary one-dimensional product. It demands a paradigm shift in the manner we use the Net to collaborate/communicate — a shift from using multiple tools in different formats to a uniform communication/collaboration infrastructure. In its current form, Google Wave is at its infancy and the features discussed here are just the tip of the iceberg. Over the coming days/months, it may evolve into a consummate communication/collaboration product.
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