Wave hello to the new web

I know that for many of you, Google Wave is sooo last month, blogging is soooo 1999 and email was around before you were born and therefore probably invented by the Romans. But for a crusty old 34 year old who has just gained access to the Wave preview, it is quite exciting. In small gasps of spare time late at night, I've even been reading the architecture guides and API documentation. I don't understand it, but that's not the point - it's about being into the Zeitgeist. Indeed, it's about using words like Zeitgeist on your blog, and using them with little understanding of the meaning.

Ok, look, I don't want to foam at the mouth about The Next Big Thing(TM) and predict it will change your life, but I'm finding it all rather difficult. I really do think this could be significant. The cynical IT part of my personality is trying to kill the puppy-like enthusiast that is doing handstands on my mental landscape I can't help it - Wave looks to me like a real live bona fide case of the ever-elusive innovation.

Yes, that's right, a large corporation potentially doing very well by being innovative. Extraordinary.

As best as my feeble understanding of the architecture documentation allows, here is how it works. It has a client-server architecture, where the server acts as the hub between participating clients and will receive and disseminate operational transformations on XML documents called waves and elements called wavelets. These transformations can be disseminated in real time or stored for asynchronous access. The state of the XML document for each client is entirely defined by the sequence of operational transformations available to them, and so can be reconstructed at any time backwards and forwards down that timeline. It makes use of the oh-so-funky HTML5 so will run in the browser in a delightful way...

Got that?

From the point of view of the participant, it has some of the characteristics of email, some of instant messenger, some of online document collaboration and a pinch of magic pixie dust. The platform can federate - i.e. you can communicate across many different servers - in a way that is conceptually not a million miles away from email architecture, but significantly evolved. A third party could take the open protocols and implement a corporate wave server, much like an internal email server, but gateways to the wider world of wave would allow conversations to cross organisations just as email does today. The synchronous elements - i.e. stuff happening together a la instant messaging - are completely integrated, so if the person is at the other end, what felt like an email exchange can suddenly morph into what feels like an IM conversation.

Just seen well fny song on Lily and file shrng. tinyurl.com/y9r6x9c lol. Brb.

Ok, I'm back. A wave can be a natter about nothing, or it can be a document that you are collectively working on. Because any 'Wave' is stored as a construction of all the actions that created it, you can play the conversation or document back - almost like 'track changes' in a document. There can be public and private elements, private side conversations alongside the main one. It can contain photos, videos, games... the lot. Twitter and Facebook could be obliterated overnight if this take off.

The APIs are fun. You can build a client-side extension - an example is a Google Maps gadget that lets you collaborate on map information - arranging a trip for example. You can also build a robot that sits as a participant of the conversation, like an IRC bot, but it can edit the contents of the wavelets as well as contributing. It could take the phrase BCS in any conversation it is listening to and insert our beautiful new logo in its place. Potentially a robot could provide you with a car insurance quote, or act as the front end to a customer service desk. A wave could behave like a fluidly interactive web page.

The hooks are in place to use waves all over the place. This blog could be a public wave. BCS Specialist Groups could have wave-based meetings with video presentations and discussions. To be perfectly honest, having had a fiddle with it I simply want to use it for all my online communication - end of story. It's still a developer preview, so it's rough around the edges, but the concept is just brilliant. Stick a SIP client in and I might well pass out from the beauty of it all.

And that brings me neatly to the real question. Ten years ago I reacted rather similarly to SIP, but there were some significant barriers to adoption. Will waves really take off and dominate? There are several factors in its favour. The Google brand is undoubtedly strong in this area. Integration with email is promised, which will surely be vital. The developer community is going nuts, and it looks like the barriers to deploying apps will be minimal. Yet it is difficult to predict what factors will drive or inhibit adoption, so all I will really say is that it's got a good shot at it.

Even if it is adopted widely, none of this suggests it will be all upside. If it is successful, it will amalgamate an incredible swathe of our life into one platform. We will be conducting more and more of our life through it, so a profile of our online activity will be even more revealing than it is now - and even more valuable to criminals and direct marketers. Goodness knows what new and interesting kinds of abuse and irritation we shall suffer from online trolls or people who DON'T REALISE THEY ARE SHOUTING through this platform. No doubt it would be the perfect communications tool for terrorists, and some bright spark will design an encryption plugin that even GCHQ will find mildly challenging to crack. We'll all be murdered in our beds, but at least 999-bot will keep us company and provide solace in our final moments.

If you haven't seen the rather long but very good developer presentation on it, then I recommend having a look at http://wave.google.com/help/wave/about.html.

Ok, time for me to stop with this arcane medium and go surf some real waves - Google Waves. I'm sure it's going to be great when I actually have some people to talk to...

About the author

Thoughts on membership, the profession, and the occasional pseudo-random topic from the BCS Policy and Community Director.

See all posts by David Evans
March 2018

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