Surfing the Wave

Posted by on Thursday October 15 2009

I thought about titling this post, “Getting Seasick,” but I think the Dramamine is starting to kick in. But be forewarned – getting involved with Google Wave at this stage is not for the faint of heart. If you’re concerned about all of your familiar actions and methodologies being turned on their heads, might be wise to hang out at the shoreline for a bit, especially until some of the expected navigation tools have been sorted out. On the flip side, the fun thing about playing with alpha or beta software is to see how’s it broken and what can be done with it.

I received a Wave invite this morning and have promptly spent the morning and afternoon trying to wrap my head around it. Thankfully, because everyone is in the same boat (disclaimer: I’m sorry about the oceanic puns. I can’t help it), a search for help yields a lot of blog chatter, including listings for how-to waves and other tips and tricks. But right now, because Wave is sort of in hurricane mode, it’s chaotic and it’s not at all simple to figure out.

Just to back up a step, a Wave is essentially a live-action discussion group, not dissimilar to an IRC group. But unlike IRC, Waves are collaborative discussions, with the ability to reply to comments above and below, all comments being editable after the fact, and you can embed other content (videos, plugins, other discussions, images, etc) into the thread of the Wave. Think of a Wave as a hybrid of IRC, a wiki, a listserv, and a forum. In Waves with a lot of collaborators, there may be a number of people commenting and replying to threads, editing the body content, pulling in links to other waves, and embedding extensions for additional functionality. Oh, and when someone is typing, you can see that in real-time, typos and all. So be careful what you say; someone might be watching!

I know that a lot of folks use Google Docs for collaborative work on spreadsheets and documents, and, strangely enough, those tools were not brought into Wave from the outset. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is added soon, especially since they seem to dovetail rather nicely. But I could see a lot of benefits to “wrapping” a spreadsheet or other document with discussion threads. Oh, the discussion history can also be retrieved and viewed, which is helpful if someone changes a comment and affects the direction or meaning of the discussion.

As far as the implications for cultural heritage institutions go, I’m pretty excited. Here at Magnes, we’ve started using Google Docs and our wiki fairly extensively. Sure, we only have a staff of eleven, but using those tools for ongoing modification and discussion has been invaluable. Once people remember to use them and they become part of the workflow, they’re time-savers, and historical records of processes and methodologies. So to extrapolate from that, if we can use something like Wave to add real-time discussion to the equation, we can get a richer record of the conversation and more opportunities for issues to be addressed.

Something I’m envisioning is a Wave for material culture research. Say I post a picture of a piece of ceremonial art with some Malayalam inscription and invite scholars to opine on the work. The institution doesn’t necessarily have the experts on-hand to translate the inscription, and there might be some feature that is unusual that we can’t identify, but this may be a very proactive way to uncover historical details we might otherwise have never known about. Granted, posting a photo to a listserv or a forum might achieve the same intended result, but I think that because Waves are so very tightly-knit, one might have a better chance of those scholars finding your query.

That might also be a downside as well. Once you’ve made your Wave public, anyone can add to the discussion. There isn’t any privacy, and as it stands now, the opportunities for spammers are ripe. I’m not yet convinced of the pie-in-the-sky optimism Google has that its users won’t use the tool for evil. Most of my other criticisms I’m reserving for now, since I think many of them will be ironed out in subsequent updates.

If any of you readers are Wave users, I’ve set up a Wave specifically for cultural heritage institutions to discuss how we might use the software to further our goals: Museums, Archives, and Libraries. Please pop on by!

  • Frequently Asked Questions – Very handy list of shortcuts, since nothing is really intuitive in Wave yet
  • Google Wave Add-on for Firefox – Alerts you when a Wave you’re following has a new edit or reply.
  • Wave Guide: Wave’s Greatest Hits – the best Wave I’ve found to date for learning some of the little nitpicky tricks.
  • Figuring out your Wave’s ID – Sometimes when you’re editing a Wave, you’d like to embed the ID of another Wave into the body. This post shows you how to find the ID to input.
  • How to Build a Public Wave – Yes, trying to make your Wave publicly available is a major PITA right now. Here’s how to do it.
  • In a busy Wave, there may be a whole lot of new comments you want to read, but scrolling down isn’t the most effective way to locate the new replies (identified with a vertical green bar to the left of the user icon). Simply hit the space bar to get to the next reply.
  • Embedding a Wave in your WordPress blog – This is pretty cool. You can use WordPress to display Waves in real-time. Note that the embedded Waves can only be seen by current users.
  • To reply to a comment in a wave, Ctrl-doubleclick and hit Reply. Or look for the blue box underneath it when you mouse over the area, and click.

Filed under: Random Musings andReviews andTools

One Response to “Surfing the Wave”

  1. Mark Essel
    October 16th, 2009 07:56

    Thanks so much for linking back to the wordpress embed of wave post. Best of luck with your collaborative cultural heritage application!

    Track down waves that are wishlists and add on anything you’d like to see. I think specific detailed request waves that rise to the top of waverz (voter wave) will be likely to get implemented by developers.

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