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Wave Puzzle

Okay – I’ve been surfing the Wave for a bit now, and I have to admit that my love for it endures.  I’ve bombed around the public Waves, and I’ve taken a good long look at what the Wave has to offer, what it lacks, and what other people think it lacks.  From what I’ve seen, most of the early adopters seem to feel that Wave offers too little in terms of control.  The fact that anyone can edit anyone else’s words seems to scare the bejesus out of people.  What they don’t seem to be getting is that this is one of the strengths of Wave.  Wave is like a conversation you have in a room with real live people – you can (and will) be interrupted, people will put words in your mouth, and you will constantly have to deal with the fact people always hear what they think you said, rather than the actual words that came out of your mouth.

To me, these ‘complaints’ are precisely what set Wave apart from other apps.  It makes it closer to real interactions with real humans than any other so-called ‘social’ application.  To me, this is what makes it so much fun (even the fact that someone else can screw up and totally destroy your Wave.  Again – just like dealing with other people in the real world).  What I’ve found is that the changes most Wave surfers would like to see implemented would only serve to make Wave into something they’re more familiar (read: comfortable) with.  Most (maybe all, come to think of it) of the ‘Wish List’ items I see talked about on various Waves basically boil down to desires to see it behave more like E-Mail, or instant messaging, or texting, or Twitter, or Facebook, or what have you.  Personally, I like the fact that Wave exists in its own space.  There are, however, a couple of gaping holes in the Wave that I would like to see addressed.

The Wave is being billed as a collaboration tool.  This is all well and good but thus far I haven’t seen much about it that would make it especially suited to – well – collaboration.  The general concept is there, but the necessary building blocks are (thus far) absent.  For example, there is a distinct lack of integration with other Google products that would be particularly suited for collaboration.  Google Docs, for instance.  And GCal.  Throw in Maps, Earth and Voice for the complete package.  There is some integration, but it is clumsy and not suited to the non-Dork.  I have managed to embed a collaborative document in a Wave, but the interface is not particularly elegant. I have seen some integration of Maps, but I have also watched while someone tried in vain to embed a map created with Google’s own My Maps feature.

There is, however, one Google property that has good Wave integration.  Of course, it would be YouTube, the Google property least suited to actual collaboration.  The integration is nice, though – just paste a YouTube URL into a Wave, and a helpful light bulb pops into existence, asking if you’d like to embed the video.  Pretty slick.

The Wave sloshed around the developer world for a while before it hit the public.  Because of this, there are already a fair number of Wave-specific tools floating around out there.  I have seen a fair amount of these tools.  Some are fun, some are useful, some are just plain silly.  Blessed few of them are actually useful for collaboration (the few that I have seen tend to be specifically geared toward scientific communities – mostly tools that allow researchers to communicate with each other using the proper arcane symbology).  I have seen Wave bots that will talk to you so that you don’t feel lonely.  I have seen bots that will turn a colon and a parenthesis into an actual graphic smiley face.  What I haven’t seen are any tools that allow for Wave organization.  Waves, by their nature, tend to get slapped together rather haphazardly.  It would be nice to be able to apply some sort of order to a Wave after the fact.  Thus far, I haven’t seen anything that allows for this (outside of doing it manually in the form of a new Wave).  A simple table of contents would be helpful (I hear that there used to be such a tool, but it doesn’t work in the newer versions of Wave).  Throw in the ability to hotlink to another location within a Wave (something I have searched in vain for), and we’d really be in business.  Update: There is one extension that shows a great deal of promise:  The Mediawiki Wave Extension, although it thus far only exists in theory.  I fully expect it to come into being, though, and expect it to answer many of my organizational complaints.  I don’t, however, expect it to address any of my integration complaints.

The upside is that there are a lot of Geeks involved, and Wave is designed to be open and extensible, so I can hope that someone will come along and develop the tools I’d like to see (or, failing that, I could make them myself, although this is not an option for the average user).  The downside is that the Geeks involved are – well – Geeks, and they’ve already shown us where their priorities lie.  Which is why we have good YouTube integration, but no real Docs integration.  And why we have bots for smiley faces but not organization.

It’s a Brave New World, folks, and it’s full of smileys and dramatic squirrels.

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Google Wave
“Alright, I’m in. ‘Cause there’s some next level shit going on and I’m OK with that.”

– Will Smith, Men In Black –

I have seen the future, and it is Google Wave.  That having been said, I have also seen the present, and it is using Google Wave.  Allow me to explain:

I’ve been riding the Wave for about a week now, and I have to say that my first impression was: WOW!  So were my second, third and fourth impressions.  Wave pretty much takes everything I like about the internet and puts it together in one convenient package.  I am – frankly – astounded at the things it allows me to do.  This is (as Will Smith so succinctly put it) next level shit.  Wave is billed as a collaboration tool and it certainly fills that bill (although I have to admit that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to use it as such – so far I’ve just been playing).  It also works well as a replacement for E-Mail, instant messaging and just about any other variety of social media you care to name.  I’m not making this up – Google Wave rocks.  And it is the future of online communication.  This is not to say that the big ‘G’ will be the provider of said future, no more than Outlook personifies E-Mail (despite the fact that many people actually believe this to be the case).  It’s not Wave that’s the future, but rather what Wave represents.  And what it will become.

Unfortunately, the internet is – in a nutshell – a network that exists to connect people.  And, in case you haven’t noticed, people are pretty stupid (in general, not individually.  You are very smart).  This means that many of the people currently using Google Wave (probably the majority of them) aren’t really getting it.  And this is where the present comes in.  The sad fact is that we have an incredible wealth of technology at our disposal, yet most people only use it to send sideways smiley faces to each other.  So most of the people riding the Wave (that I have been exposed to) are basically just treating it as though it’s a chat room with bells and whistles.  I say this to illuminate, not to denigrate.  My Darling Wife initially shied away from the Wave, viewing it as being too complicated to readily adopt.  She changed her tune after I pointed her attention to two things:  1)  E-Mail is a complicated unknown when we’re first exposed to it, and 2) You can use Wave without knowing how to access all of its functionality (or any of it, for that matter).  At first glance, Google Wave looks very much like an online forum or the comment threads on any of a number of web sites.  And this is where I feel a need to warn the average user:  Google Wave is NOT anonymous.

Let me repeat that.  Wave is NOT anonymous.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Wave requires you to have a Google account (which is your Gmail account).  Your Wave address and your Gmail address are functionally the same (@googlewave vs. @gmail).  This means that anyone you talk to in Wave has access to your E-Mail address.  Is this a problem?  If it is, you should stay away from the Wave.  If it isn’t, you’re probably the kind of person I’d like to include in my Waves.

Like I said:  Next level shit.  And that means you have to take personal responsibility for it.  Welcome to the new millennium.

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