Back a few years ago, Google introduced a paradigm shift to e-mail with Gmail. Those of you who have and use Gmail at home, for example, know how annoying it is to have to go back to work and use the traditional e-mail interface, which doesn't make threads of e-mail discussions, and doesn't allow multiple tags for conversations.
Google Wave, designed by Lars and Jens Rasmussen (creators of Google Maps), is the next paradigm shift in communications user interface. Frankly, it does so much that I'm a bit afraid of it.
Here is a 1hour, 20 minute video on YouTube introducing Google Wave from a developer conference in May. (You can safely skip the first 2-3 minutes)
As an example of what problems Google Wave solves is this:
- On a wiki (such as Wikipedia), it's very easy to edit a document collaboratively, but the discussions on that page are difficult to do. You have to manually structure the tree of the conversation, and manually add your user signature.
- Conversely, on e-mail, it's easy to see who made what comment about a document, but it's very annoying to pull that together.
- With Google Docs, they made a bit of inroads, by allowing discussion via Google Chat (or whatever their chat module is called; I hate using chat), but that's in a sidebar to the Google Docs window.
- With Google Wave, the whole thing is all together, you can see comments about parts of the document inline, as well as who made them and when, and you can also hide the comments to see just the document itself. You can add someone new to the document, and they will see the most recent version, but they can also see a playback of where that document came from.
- In Gmail, messages with the same subject line are grouped into threads or conversations. Gmail tries its hardest to figure out when these are the same conversation and when to split them.
- If someone in the conversation changes the subject line, it will start a new thread, which is annoying when a non-Gmail user replies with their own comments in the subject line.
- Furthermore, when you're having a conversation among a dozen people, and you separate comments out to have a private conversation with one of the others, you have two options: you can change the subject line--making it harder to find the sub-conversation when looking at the main conversation, or you can keep the subject line the same, burying the private conversation in the larger group thread.
- Google Wave solves this very well, and keeps privacy relatively secure. (I'll note, however, that it seems anybody can add an additional party to a conversation very easily, and that additional party will be able to see back into that conversation. This is a security risk, as when someone on a private e-mail list forwards the message to someone outside the list.)
Google Wave has lots of extensibility and existing integration with other services, such as image searches and (*sigh*) twitter, but the neatest aspect is the live interaction:
- Google Wave updates the conversation/discussion/collaboration live on other participants' Google Wave interfaces as well. So unlike in a chat client, where at most you'll see that someone is typing a response, your response will appear character-by-character as you type it (you can disable this when composing more delicate messages).
- Google Wave also corrects your spelling live. Not just identifying non-word typos, but contextual typos. The example they use in the video is "I would like some been dip": even though "been" is a valid word, it understands from the context that it is not the right word, and it corrects it live. Grammar Nazis rejoice: It also recognizes to/too/two errors and, I assume, their/there/they're errors. If it is not highly confident, it will underline the word instead of automatically replacing it.
- Even more rock-awesome, it has a translation feature, so you can converse--live--with people in other languages, and it will translate your message as you type it! (Toward the end of the video, last 5 or so minutes)
The best part is they plan to open-source it, and users on different implementations will be able to communicate amongst each other.
It's really hard to understand what Google Wave does without seeing the video. The video is a bit long-winded at times, but watching the whole thing reassured me of some of the concerns I had with it early on (such as privacy and version control). I'm still not sure if I've got my head wrapped entirely around the paradigm, but it looks like a promising extension of productivity tools. (There's even a text-based terminal interface!)
I've requested an invitation to Google Wave, and I hope that those I collaborate with will also be early adopters. It has a lot of potential, and I hope to be able to use it.