The New Wave?

 Google Wave Screenshot - from
Google Wave Screenshot – from

The other day, Google previewed a new product that is *still in development* called "Google Wave". It will be available for use later this year, but if it’s anything like the preview, we are in for a revolution! Does this sound like an exaggeration? It’s not really… the demo totally blew my mind!!


To give an overview, before getting into the details, Google Wave attempts to combine the following tools into one single application: email, group discussion, instant messaging, document collaboration, and more! As the developers admitted, it does some things that they themselves hadn’t envisioned (as no tool had offered these abilities before). No, I don’t mean that each of these separate tools are available within Wave — I mean that the concept of the Wave itself (product name, as well as what they call the document that is created) meshes all of these abilities into a single "thing".

A tool like this would offer users the ability to communicate ideas in a non-linear fashion (as opposed to the long string of email replies you see at the end of a discussion), in a way that can be reviewed live or after the fact. Participants can be added at any time, and have the ability to review not only the current state of the document/communication (from here on, simply referred to as ‘the Wave’), but can also use a Playback feature to review every state of the Wave, in order.

Whether it is a collaborative document, or an ongoing communication really doesn’t depend on the tool itself – simply how the participants are using it.

So what does this mean for education? Off the top, it would offer the features that students and teachers are already using (in some schools), in a single tool. The Wave created by a class group could be kept private – or it could be posted to something like a class blog or website, for the public to view. It doesn’t seem that the developers have really considered the possible impact on education, so new uses will likely emerge as those of us in education get our hands on it. For those of you concerned about the Patriot act and users’ confidential information — apparently, self-hosting will be a possibility. I’m not sure if it will be available right away, or how much work would be required to host it… but it gives us some hope!

In any case, my notes during the session, as well as the session video, are posted below.

Here is a good breakdown of Google Wave, in case my notes and blathering have left you more confused.


Demoed in Chrome and Safari. Dancing and neener neener…

HTML 5 application

What would email look like if it was invented today?

Gmail combines emails into threads

Wave thinks of the conversation as a shared object, building from a central server. More like a discussion board, than email. Hosted conversation. Can split a message apart, to post responses to specific parts of a message. Can do instant messaging conversing… transmitting live almost character by character (could be dangerous, since it doesn’t give the user a chance to change their mind about sending a post! — ah, they’ve added a checkbox to disable this, if you aren’t comfortable with it.)

 Can add new participants to a conversation at any time. With email, you’d have to make sure the whole conversation is in the reply structure. With this, they just see the whole thing intact. Playback allows you to see the progress of the discussion, from the original *intact* message, and all subsequent additions in the order they were added.

Private reply – Can reply to some recipients, while hiding it from others in the conversation. The tree structure allows you to restrict access to any "branch" of the tree.

Attachments – Drag & drop attachments (photos, etc.) onto the "wave". Image thumbnails appear to the participants even before the full-sized image is completely uploaded to the server. This part currently requires a downloaded plugin (gears?), as it’s not currently part of HTML 5 – but a proposal has been made to add it to HTML 5.

Can essentially create a group photo album, complete with a viewer.

APIs – allow you to embed waves on your webpage.

Example – Embed in Blogger blog – add blog user (bloggy?) to the wave,  and it will be embedded and usable from within the blog. Can respond to the wave from inside the blog itself.
Example – Embed in Orkut? Can embed, can use contacts other than your Wave contacts (she used her Orkut ones).

Waves on mobile devices – shown on an Android device, and an iPhone.

Editing & Document Collaboration – one central copy of the Wave… if you edit anything (i.e. captions on the photos), it will fix in all places it is being displayed/embedded. Not only can you edit your own messages, but you can edit each others’ messages – making Wave a great collaborative tool (instead of needing a wiki). Users who have *already seen the Wave* will see markup to identify the changes users have made, with a message about who made the changes. Playback can also be used to see the progress of the changes. The product of the Wave can be reused in another Wave or possibly exported.

Live, concurrent, editing – Multiple users can edit the same Wave at the same time. You can see the parts that they are changing, and a coloured icon showing where the person is editing. 

Wave Organizing – can use folders, tags, and can even link Waves inside other Waves. 

Are planning to add in features for spreadsheets and other types of document…

Extensions & Robots:

Spell-check – not only checks for spelling, but checks for the context of a word. Example: "been soup" – Waves suggests the word "bean" instead. Also, "icland is an icland" was *automatically* changed to "Iceland is an island.".

Youtube – the link-detection robot can also offer other options for a
Youtube link, including the ability to embed the video in the Wave.

Google search – can be done right inside Wave, and the resulting links or images can easily be added to the Wave. 

Forms – can be used to create forms collaboratively. There are two Wave stages here – the first wave is the Admin wave, used to create the form and collect the results. The second is the resulting form Wave itself, which is sent out to recipients who complete the form. (can be a poll, etc.)

Twitter – the "Tweety" extension allows you to create a ‘Twave", in which you log into Twitter and can update with a Tweet, view the list of updates from those you are following, and actually search Twitter based on keywords. Not only do you see these elements in Wave itself, the updates DO get sent to Twitter.

Rosie Robot — translates what is being typed in the Wave from
one language to another, based on the language settings of the user.
Example: An English user communicating with a French one — types in
English, translates to French on the other user’s screen. The French
user replies in French, which gets translated to English (word-by-word,
phrase-by-phrase) on the English user’s screen. Crazy cool! But how
good is the translation – we’ve all seen really bad translation tools!!!



Games, like Sudoku and Chess 

 … and Playback works with Gadgets too!

Maps – can embed a map, find a location, change views, zoom in/out, make changes *collaboratively*!

Federation: users can build their own Wave system, give accounts, and the content should still work across Wave systems. (could this work for a Ryerson-based system?). They are planning to open source most of the code, so the alternate systems can look pretty much the same as the central Google Wave system. Even though users may technically be on separate Wave systems, the updates are still done real time.  (Even showed another Wave running inside terminal and looks really super geeky!)

Waves that are not shared with external users will only reside inside the "server closet", and will never be on the Google servers.

— In case you want to watch the whole preview:

Can’t See the embedded video? Click here.