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...

Comments (12)

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  • 1
    Santos wrote on 29th Oct 2009

    Fascinating, as usual.

    Will the corporates take it, love it and roll with it or be afeared and bury it.

    If the techies get it, are they the best people to decide how to use it?

    I fear it may not fly but the Lord knows we need it. Email is still the crux of business communication and it hasn't really changed in 20 years. And there's a reason for that. It's difficult to work out what people would want in its place. Magic pixie dust is definitely the order of the day.

    Here's hoping it (or something like it) works in the corp environment at least. As for privacy? Well, that doesn't really exist any more anyway does it.

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  • 2
    Darren wrote on 29th Oct 2009

    I'm looking forward to Wave even if it is for more fantastic Google Wave cinemas: http://tinyurl.com/ykhwpt8

    Seriously though I think it will make a great business tool, but like all new ideas it will take a while for the people at the top to see its worth.

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  • 3
    David Evans wrote on 29th Oct 2009

    Privacy doesn't exist? Bah!

    The mechanisms by which new technology is adopted is fantastic - and I'm fully aware that I'm pushing this up the first wave (sic) of the Gartner Hype Cycle. Yet the thing that gets the adrenalin pumping for me is that if the pull of this technology is so compelling, it could pull people in at an unprecedented pace. If groups start using it, there will be a rapid 's' curve of adoption as people could quickly feel left out if all their mates are on it.

    One other aspect is that sites like Facebook and Twitter have to some extent defined the content and applicability by the interface. I mean, who on earth thinks that 140 characters is a good limit for communicating about an earthquake? Haiku maybe.

    Something like this could re-open the door to more complex personal interactions online, and I think that might be a good thing.

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  • 4
    Haitham A. El-Ghareeb wrote on 30th Oct 2009

    Thanks for the post. First of all, I love the way you blog. This is the first entry I read for you, and it is really awesome. I am sure I'll be checking your writings regularly.

    Second, thanks for demonstrating Wave the simple way you did. I have been looking for wave for 2 weeks right now, without being able to precisely define it. I am sure millions around the world still can't precisely define wave yet, because they haven't seen it the way you did. By the way, if you are really not the IT Geek as you claim; I got that impression from reading the first paragraph BUT I believe you are, you managed to explain wave in a perfect way.

    I have been frustrated in the differences between Microsoft Office Live and Wave. I am even disturbed between the two giants, wondering what are the considerations to choose one of them as a recommendation to my institution. After reading your entry, I'm willing to wait for my wave experiment before taking the final decision.

    Thanks for the entry.

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  • 5
    DunxD wrote on 30th Oct 2009

    I've had access to Wave for about a month now, and I'm still trying to figure out how I would use it. That never happened with email - I got it and I immediately knew what I wanted to do with it. Same went for usenet. If they need a video - ANY video - to explain it, then it will take a while to catch on.

    It isn't hard to use. In fact, it is very easy. But just take a look at some public waves. Incomprehensible, and the fact that they are so incomprehensible means there is no incentive to replay them. It's like reading the logfile from an IRC server.

    Google will need to do some work to help people understand the point - create some useful public waves (but locked for editing), even about Wave. Until then, this remains a solution looking for a problem...

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  • 6
    David Evans wrote on 30th Oct 2009

    Thanks very much for the comments. It is interesting to consider how much of an explanation is needed before people can engage with Wave, and the incomprehensible nature of public waves is not encouraging.

    However, those attributes matter less when what is occurring is...and I hate to use the phrase...a paradigm shift. Teenagers multitasking across IM, email and Facebook for example, are in some ways combining them inside their heads in a way that Wave does inside an application (maybe!). The conceptual barriers to entry are there because we're talking about a new concept. Email was effectively an existing concept (i.e. mail) re-drawn on the Internet. Once a use-model settles down, etiquette develops, and we find ourselves understanding what we are doing then it will become second nature, and we'll wonder what the fuss was about.

    Even having said that, I'm not arguing that this is what happen, only that this is a possible route...

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  • 7
    ChrisW wrote on 3rd Nov 2009

    Good post, David - please keep us informed of how you get on with Wave.

    I haven't had a chance to play with it yet, but the 80-minute video you linked to (from Google I/O 2009) talked about how the development team had been using it themselves during their own development work. There's also a slightly shorter video (53 min) at Google Tech Talks:


    I can see very easily how Wave might replace/enhance things like project wikis + email + online conferencing within tech-savvy organisations (once the bugs are ironed out). Although it would probably require a fair degree of organisational flexibility for people to move over to a Google-based platform for these kind of semi-formal and informal communications.

    And it will probably take a while for more conservative corporate organisations to pick it up, especially as it doesn't come with that all-important "Microsoft" badge they all value so highly.

    But full credit to Google for pushing ahead with what looks like a genuinely interesting and innovative synthesis of existing technologies. I wonder if they'll ever make any money out of it?!

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  • 8
    Huw wrote on 4th Nov 2009

    Don't suppose you have any spare invites?

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  • 9
    Julian C wrote on 4th Nov 2009

    I've seen the long presentation and the potential looks terrific, I haven't been granted access yet but am fairly sure the big G have managed this without making everything too proprietary with a use of XML we might not have even dreamed about 10 years ago.

    What I haven't seen any information on yet is about addressing the flip side to this, I'll call them the 3 Ss: Security, Spam and Safety.

    Security - how are these being transmitted and stored and does this pose a risk in both corporate and personal domains.

    Spam - anything purporting to the the next evolution of email has got to address this major issue. It's bad enough having 'static' emails bombard your inbox but...
    The thought of individual wavelets being filtered (lost) as false negatives would be a concern too.

    Safety - Monitoring and controlling the use of certain 'channels' (e.g. chat ) by minors is easier when there are separate clients in use, when the barriers are blurred will they also become less safe?

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  • 10
    David Evans wrote on 4th Nov 2009

    Thanks for the interesting comments! There is a great deal of technical information on protocols etc that includes the cryptographic elements at http://www.waveprotocol.org/whitepapers and there are links to draft specs of the protocol. That at least gives an overview of the security issues. If the way servers federate makes it easier to trace messages and close down spammy sources that might also have an impact. In terms of safety....who knows? It seems unlikely to me that this will make things worse, and perhaps there are opportunities for innovative add-ons that will help protect children online...

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  • 11
    Tom McEwan wrote on 6th Nov 2009

    I first looked at the Google Developers Convention launch videos for Wave a few months back and it looked interesting. But then I saw a few conference papers on Activity-Centered Computing (aka Activity-Centric Computing, or Activity-Based Computing) with tools such as Lotus Activities, and wonder now whether Wave is an early attempt to push the sexier end of these ideas into the public eye and gain early mover advantage. Being able to watch people correct their mis-spellings doesn't strike me as a big leap forward, though realtime translation might lead to some interesting hybridisation of languages!

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  • 12
    David Evans wrote on 10th Nov 2009

    There is, to coin a phrase, nothing new under the sun, but personally I have to say that seeing the typing in real time is much preferable to sitting patiently watching the icon that indicates a reply is being written...

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About the author

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

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