20 December, 2009

It’s all shiny, captain!

To be fair, I haven’t seen this message in Google’s Wave interface very often, but this is the error message you get from the Wave interface when something’s gone pear-shaped. They generally provide a input box where you can type in what you were doing (“Looking at a wave”), and submit that to the technical people. You then have to refresh the page. This is much simpler than some other things I’ve seen happen, where browsers promptly die, very occasionally taking the operating system with them. Yes Sue, I’ve seen that happen.

It’s certainly in a “closed beta” stage, though “semi-open” would be a more correct term, as Google have been handing gobs of invites out to those who politely ask, or to those who get given one by a waver who is already on line. And you can tell the functionality’s not all there, though there are certainly things you can do. Who would have thought you could stream video and music twenty years ago? GoogleWave reminds me of a house that’s just being built, so random decisions about the wallpaper are getting made before some of the walls are even up. They’re sort of stringing cabling through the joists to bring power to the plasma television they have up on the wall behind me. And they’ve already changed what goes on the floors about seven times before they standardised on white concrete. Or was that wood panel? Nope, it was ceramic tiles, I think. But I think you get the point. We’re still finding out how to tie in everything else from twitter to blogs, music to live video, email, MSN chats, and lots of other stuff. But the remaining problem is: how do we use it without referring to whatever else we’ve all been doing before Google Wave came along?

That’s a little trickier.

At the moment at least, I’m using it as a glorified IRC client with fancy formatting, and “paste-where-you-like” functionality. As long as all parties are present on a wave, and nobody stomps on anyone else, it can be even more fun than IRC, purely because of the removal of the linear input structure mandated by IRC. The same applies to any Instant Message services, because they present information to the user in a continuous stream of lines. Google Wave does that bit better than any of the other messaging services I’ve used, including jabber. But I’m still trying to use it as a series of lines to communicate. And I’m not entirely sure that that’s what GoogleWave is good at. The fact that a conversation is just there, is great. Nobody has to worry about archiving it any more. Of course, if Google Wave goes teats-up, then we may need to restart using somewhere else as a server. It’s definitely a server-client architecture, and probably requires a good understanding of the infrastructure of the server before you let your users loose on it.

Other posited uses of it have been:

  • Live meeting notes
    While a meeting is happening, you can have a large number of meeting participants also taking notes, all on the same page. This requires some discipline, to make sure that you don’t have a catfight. Certain people need to take charge of specific areas and not step outside those boundaries, at least not without good reason. Other people probably could cruise through, correcting any obvious mistakes that don’t get picked up in the first five minutes or so.
  • Wiki, or live F.A.Q.
    GoogleWave doesn’t have quite the same formatting abilities as a matchbox, but you can at least use highlight, bold, italic, strikethrough, underline, and choose font, size and colour. Paragraphs come for free, so does paragraph formatting. Images come through as links, or occasionally pasted as inline images with a border to them. All other files seem to be relegated to attachment status. Most of the time, these are all the formatting items you need in a wiki, at least. F.A.Qs aren’t much better.
  • Document collaboration
    If a more complicated document is required, somebody can set up the structure of the document, somebody else can concentrate on the subject matter, and somebody else can get the formatting (yes, that’s separate from structure) of the content correct. Takes a bit of work, but nothing that others aren’t used to already.
  • Show Off Page
    Needless to say, there are those of us who just like to browse the gadgets. Gadgets are gobs of code that provide anything from simple functionality a step up from lists of sets to fullblown applications embedded into the middle of a wave. They provide anything from simple twitter feeds, to maps from GoogleMaps, to included youtube videos, to … well, you can pretty much come up with anything you like. But, you need to get your code correct. If you don’t, well, it’s recorded for all eternity afterwards. If this worries you, then stick to what others have written. As long as it’s well written, and doesn’t stomp all over other content, then it’s acceptable to put small amounts of gadgets into a wave. Some of them don’t play pretty with other wave content though.
  • And …
    Well, the sky’s the limit… or at least the coding quality of the Google Services upon which GoogleWave is based.

That’s a really short summary, and doesn’t provide anything like a full summary. At the time that GoogleWave was announced to the world, there was a video released (a long 82 minute video) that described many of the features present in GoogleWave at that time. Since that time, there have probably been advances in the stability of the underlying code, as well as other people making gadgets. On top of all this, of course, is the content in the very large number of waves present when you enter with:public  into the search box. People are obviously confident enough to take their content public, and not hide it away in a bunker somewhere. Of course, most of these are low-bandwidth, but there are probably a few examples of really good content. And with that I take my leave and wave goodbye.

See ya.

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