Google Wave and publishing – will it blend?

This is a great article about Google Wave. I repost it from Fiction Matters with a permission of its author – P. Bradley Robb.

Google Wave

Last week, the internet was rocked when Google handed out the first 100,000 invites to its new collaborative communication platform known as Wave. From the outside, the entire concept seemed a bit confusing, and the look from the inside wasn’t much better. But, after a week, many of us are starting to overlook the newness and instead focus on how to use Google Wave to make work more productive.

What is Google Wave?

That’s a difficult question. To understand what Wave is, minimal knowledge of several disparate technologies is required: email, instant messaging, collaboratively edited documents (wikis), and message boards. Add in a dash of other technologies – polling options, digital maps, games, chat rooms, and video – and you can quickly start to see why Google Wave is difficult to explain. The platform is essentially a wealth of potential, so much so that a starting point can be hard to find.

Understanding Wave

The easiest means to understand Wave is to look at situations that it replaces – the easiest being a project that is group emailed. Authors and editors are routinely emailing documents back and forth, annotated with changes, suggestions, and criticisms. If the email is just between two people – the author and the editor – then keeping up with everything is relatively simple to do. However, if a third person is entered into the mix, or a second email chain is started, then the cohesive flow of information is shattered. Here’s an excellent real world example of just such a conundrum by Moonrat.

Now, let’s compare that situation to how Wave works. An author is easily able to create a Wave and paste in the latest draft of the chapter an Editor has requested. After inviting said editor to that Wave, both the author and editor can alter the document in real time, each able to see what the other is doing as it happens. There is no need to email the document back and forth, no need to wait. Comments can be added inline or onto the document as a whole. When others are invited to the Wave, Google has a playback feature, which allows the participant to view all of the changes, comments, and suggestions made in chronological order.

Good bye conversation confusion.

Uses For The Publishing Community

Wave does a fairly good job of facilitating communication, bringing conversations and group-work into the real time in a method that’s intuitive and relatively stable. This means that the relationships that provide the real muscle in the publishing industry – that between author, agent, and editor – can be streamlined to increase productivity.

For the more forward-looking publishers there is even more good news. Google is releasing the source code for Wave as open source software. This means a publisher could setup an internal version of Wave, and only grant access to established clients – thus keeping everything away from prying eyes until the book is ready.

As the technology grows and more people migrate to the system other uses will certainly crop up. One which is clearly obvious is for digital writing groups. With users easily able to post documents, and changes able to be made in real time without the need for specific software or downloading anything, groups can easily start a Wave for each person’s specific writing and track progress with the writer. The ability to privatize replies means that even harsh criticism can be made without isolating the author.

And then there will be authors who undoubtedly use the open nature of Wave to invite new readers and directly involve them in the writing experience – pulling back the veil if you will. Watching a writer compose and monitoring the drafting process might make some writers uncomfortable (especially draft hounds with tragic spelling like myself), but the converse is that granting such access directly to the reader has the potential to be a terrific marketing tool.

Not All Upsides

Granted, Wave isn’t perfect. It’s barely ready to be used, slowing down the browser and occasionally getting buggy. But, for a product just out of alpha, it shows some serious potential. Upon running the collaborative editing test for this article, I noted three key areas of interest which need improvement.

Paste Support: Google Wave doesn’t copy correctly from external documents into a Wave.

When I copied my initial document in from Open Office Writer, a lot of spaces were dropped between words. This turned my document mushy. I’d experienced similar issues on other platforms before, and the XML backend of the word processor is typically to blame. The quick solution was to paste the document into a text editor (like Notepad on Windows or GEdit on Linux) and then re-copy that document stripped of all formating into the Wave. Doing so meant that any italics or bolding used were lost, but at least I didn’t have to run through the document chasing spaces.

Track/Approve Changes: Unlike Microsoft Word, Google Wave doesn’t have an easy method to approve changes.

When two or more parties are editing a document in Word, that same XML layer which proves a pain to copy into Wave also allows for data about who did what to be stored. This means that a document has an owner who must approve changes that another user makes.

In Wave, it’s easy to see what changes were made, and still relatively easy to see who made them, but all changes are made in real time. This can either be a detriment or a boon, depending on the relationship of those involved.

The other burr this spurred up is a lack of finalized document. Markups and comments can come quick and heavy in Wave, especially when conversations about decisions get included into the inline commenting. Stripping out these changes to export a finalized document can be annoying.

Wave Can Be Quiet: Right now, the people you need are not yet users.

Google sent out 100,000 invites on the 30th of September, and gave each of us 8 “nominations” for further invitations. So far, only two or three of my nominations have turned into invites. This means I’ve had to reach deep into my extended social networks to find others on the system. The upside is that I’ve been able to work with new people who weren’t otherwise major players in my day-to-day, and I’ve met a dozen or so new people. The downside is that the person I might really need to start a Wave with is likely not on the system.

The first complaint will likely be taken care of shortly, and the third complaint is one which Google is still actively addressing by giving out invites – thus allowing for a slow but stable growth. The middle issue, the ability to export a finalized document, is the one which will likely make or break the system for most users. Even if Google keeps everything online and in the cloud, the data needs to be manipulated into documents than which can be printed, emailed, and exported into other programs.

Will It Blend?

In the long run, I think Google Wave will be a powerful force for those who want to use it. The system is a lot like checkers – takes two minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. Those who achieve a measure of competence, and after documents can easily be imported and exported, will find Google Wave adding significantly to streamlining productivity.

After about a week with the product, I’ve already found that email and IM are now “too slow” to take full advantage of my work style. But, as with all tools, your mileage may vary.

6 Replies to “Google Wave and publishing – will it blend?”

  1. Hi Nick,

    One of the problems with the update for this product is that it is so feature rich.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great.

    But, it may be too smart for most users.
    I tried it a while back and felt overwhelmed – so much was going on!!!

    It’s like Google Reader. Also brilliant but sometimes it gets out of hand. All those feeds screaming to be read.

    Has it been localized into Polish?

    I used to work at IBM Ireland and we moved our dev centre to Poland. Major investments going that way.
    Interesting to see if Google see the business benefit of getting this into Spanish, French, Hindi etc.

    Regards,
    Ivan

    Like

  2. Hi Nick,

    One of the problems with the update for this product is that it is so feature rich.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great.

    But, it may be too smart for most users.
    I tried it a while back and felt overwhelmed – so much was going on!!!

    It’s like Google Reader. Also brilliant but sometimes it gets out of hand. All those feeds screaming to be read.

    Has it been localized into Polish?

    I used to work at IBM Ireland and we moved our dev centre to Poland. Major investments going that way.
    Interesting to see if Google see the business benefit of getting this into Spanish, French, Hindi etc.

    Regards,
    Ivan

    Like

  3. For web conferences you should try http://www.showdocument.com ,
    Great for online teaching and collaborating. I use it for working on my designs with other in my field.
    Its free and pretty simple – you just upload your file and invite others to view it together.
    – Laura W.

    Like

  4. For web conferences you should try http://www.showdocument.com ,
    Great for online teaching and collaborating. I use it for working on my designs with other in my field.
    Its free and pretty simple – you just upload your file and invite others to view it together.
    – Laura W.

    Like

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