Why Google Wave Matters

Lots of discussion around the web about Google Wave.  One common meme floating around dismisses it as an Outlook clone.

I think it’s a mistake to focus on the ‘features’ and the ‘user interfaces’ Google demonstrated.  They are of course necessary to illustrate how this new architecture can be used.  But these interfaces will evolve and morph over time.

Wave matters  because it shifts  communication and collaboration from a document transmission paradigm to a shared document editing paradigm where all documents exist in a shared repository potentially accessible by anyone.  This makes it much easier to ‘mix and match’ different kinds of communication and collaboration — which will likely lead to entirely new forms of interaction over time.

The Traditional Document Transmission Paradigm

Traditional paradigms are all based on the idea of a document being transmitted from one or more authors to one or more readers.  An email, is a very directed communication.  The document may be ‘passed around’ and forwarded to others who might add to the content.  An IM is typically quite a short document.  A tweet is by definition a short document, but one that is shared with many people.  A blog is a longer document – again shared publicly with many people.  Comments on emails, IM’s or blogs are all (typically) document based – your comment is appended to the document.

Likewise, collaborative editing is also document based.  Multiple people can edit the document – it can be sent around to different participants for comments – but (at least in the Microsoft paradigm) the document itself is passed around and edited and is the repository of the collected activity.  People tend to edit the document sequentially appending their edits to it.  The document itself is physically ‘passed around’ – either by email or checking it out of some shared repository.

The New Wave Paradigm

In the Wave paradigm every communication takes the form of a shared document in the cloud.  Communication is accomplished through shared editing of the document and real-time transmission of the changes to a group of readers or participants.  Every document is potentially accessible to anyone and everyone – you extend or contract the circle of people involved by explicitly controlling who has access to the document and what their rights are.

This paradigm easily accommodates all the traditional forms of communication and collaboration.  An email is a shared document with a restricted audience.  An IM is also a shared document with a restricted audience – just shorter.  A blog or tweet is a shared document with a public audience.  Social network type communications are shared documents with defined groups as audiences.  Changes in documents are transmitted to readers or listeners in real-time.  And of course, in the case of collaborative documents anyone given access and authority can participate in the construction of the document.  At any point in time.  There is no need to ‘pass the document’ around for editing.

So What?

If all Wave did was replace existing paradigms – it might not be that interesting.  This explains why some people are  shrugging their shoulders.  To them, it just looks too much like existing applications.  A ‘cloud based’ re-engineering effort.

It realizes it’s true power when you start to utilize the new paradigm to ‘cross boundaries’.  Let me try to illustrate this with an imagined example:

When I read a blog post or tweet there are many different things I might want to do with it.  For example, let’s say it’s something a competitor is doing.  I might want to forward it to colleagues and have a private conversation about it.  I might want to make a comment for public consumption.  I might want to blog or comment on some or all of it for public consumption by people who are following me in some way.  In some cases, I might want to do all three.

I can do all of this today.  But it’s ackward and this ackwardness places barriers that impede the flow of communication.  It causes me to ‘not bother’ with certain kinds of communication because they take too much effort.

In a Wave world I can participate in the conversation on the existing wave (the equivalent of commenting on the blog), create a derivative wave for public consumption (the equivalent of blogging or tweeting it) and create a private conversation with a limited audience (my colleagues say) discussing the original ‘blog post’.  There can of course be both private and public conversations about my derviative public conversation as well.

The comments on the original blog post can also take the form of ‘long and thoughtful commentary’ or an interactive dialog where people are commenting and getting updates in real-time.  You don’t need to have a ‘real-time’ tool for discussing the blog contents in real-time.  You just have the real-time conversation on the blog itself.

So, I use the same tool to manage all these communication streams – my public communication, my public comments on the publications of others and various forms of private communication.  I can seamlessly move between the different paradigms.  The flow of private and public communication is unimpeded.

This reduction in ‘communication friction’ will change how we communicate.  In five years time we’ll look back and marvel at how primitive the ‘document transmission’ paradigm seems.   Communication and collaboration by editing documents ‘in the cloud’ will seem perfectly normal.

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1 Response to “Why Google Wave Matters”


  1. 1 soma March 2, 2010 at 9:10 am

    hello, spring is cooming! good post there, tnx for blog.predictabuy.com


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