Google Wave is an exciting new tool that combines the best features from email, instant messenger, forums, and wiki’s into a single interface. In Wave, a group of people can simultaneously edit the same document in their web browser in real-time. That means that you can watch your co-workers’ cursors type keystroke-by-keystroke on your screen as they work. Wave is flashy and full of potential—but what can you actually use it for?
Right now your organization's documentation most likely lives in files saved on a shared network drive. Your co-workers copy and edit these documents, email them around as attachments, discuss them during meetings and over IM. Multiple versions proliferate; if one person is editing the file on the shared drive, another cannot because the file is locked. There's no easy way to see who changed what, or figure out where the most recent version is located. Lengthy email threads fracture collaborative work the same way—with every reply, multiple copies proliferate, and it's not always easy to see the most current state of the conversation.
Google Wave helps solve these problems. In Google Wave a document is a single, hosted conversation—called a lowercase "wave"—that participants can edit simultaneously in real-time. Participants can chat back and forth as well as co-edit the same text in a wave, and they can also search and playback changes to a wave over time.
Right now the Google Wave Preview is invitation-only, and it’s not close to finished. Still, there are three basic Wave use cases for your business.
First, Wave is a killer app for taking meeting notes. A dozen people taking notes in a single document is much more efficient than each person taking his or her individual notes. In Wave, you can add inline questions or comments that refer to individual points, creating an efficient backchannel: meeting attendees can respond to one another without interrupting the presenter, and latecomers can easily catch up on what they missed.
Second, Wave hosts in-depth conversations with remote co-workers who aren’t in the same conference room or office better than email or IM. You know those long emails with lists of bullet points and questions that get CC’ed to 20 people and garner dozens of fractured responses that clutter inboxes? Wave turns those kinds of discussions—the ones that require point-by-point replies—into a single hosted document that anyone can join in at any time.
Finally, Wave can serve as a light company intranet, where documentation can live and grow, and include rich content like maps, video clips, images, and polls. For example, a planning wave for the company picnic might use a poll to see who's attending, include a list of food items participants can volunteer to bring, a map with directions to the park, and after the event, photos of the attendees everyone can comment on.
Whether or not Google Wave will get widely adopted remains to be seen. But whether it's Wave or another web 2.0 application, real-time collaboration in a living workspace like Wave will replace those dead documents on your network's shared drives eventually.
To request an invitation to Google Wave, visit wave.google.com. To learn more, check out my book, The Complete Guide to Google Wave, which is free to read online at http://completewaveguide.com.
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