Thursday, June 04, 2009

Before and After Google Wave

An interesting Google Wave before-after from Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago Sun-Times. Google's Wave of the future is genius, but will it work?

Before Google Wave - the old way of doing things:
Take this very column that I’m writing. Moving thoughts from my head to your eyeballs requires three or four different communications systems. I write the column here in my word processor (1). I email it to an editor (2). He or she makes some changes and if they’re big enough, I get a phone call or a separate email and we talk them over as I make changes (3). It then goes from my editor’s desk to the Sun-Times’ webserver and the mysterious part of the operation that publishes it on paper (4).

The Sun-Times Twitter (@suntimes account broadcasts a link to the article when it’s been posted. I’ll probably re-Tweet it to my own 20,000 followers (@ihantko, which we’ll cal 5.
After Google Wave - the new way of doing things:
here’s how this column would be produced using Wave:

I have a browser window open that looks almost identical to my Google Mail window. I have an “inbox” of fresh Waves (well, if you must think of them as “messages” then go ahead … but I want my objection noted).

Just as with a conventional Inbox, the newest Waves are at the top. Waves with unread contents are highlighted in bold.

I click a button and create a new Wave. An empty editing pane opens on the side of the window, looking almost exactly like a new email message.

But it’s a rich-text editor that supports media and fancy formatting. I write my column. When I’m finally ready to give it to my editor — or at least ready for him to stop worrying that I’m only an hour from deadline and I still haven’t filed yet — I quietly drag his icon into the Wave.

Over at the Sun-Times, the Wave of this column appears in my editor’s Inbox, highlighted in bold. He clicks it to take a look.

Oh, damn. Technically, the Google Wave demo is only 80 minutes, not 90. I should have caught that error.

Before my editor’s very eyes, the “90” changes to “80.” The Wave is a “live” communication that I’m sharing with my editor any anybody else we choose to bring in. I’m still free to edit it. Finally satisfied that I have indeed crafted a Perfect Gem of flawless Truth, Beauty and Wisdom, I head over to the kitchen to fetch a celebratory Diet Dr. Pepper.

My editor quickly spots at least one line that causes grave concern: a sentence in which I intimate that Lars Rasmussen, Google Wave’s Software Engineering Manager has often been seen tramping out of a secluded wooded area carrying a shovel and a filthy empty burlap sack roughly large enough to stuff a whole human body in. He adds an instant message-like note: “It this true? Or are we going to get sued over a bad joke?”

I return to my office, beverage in hand. I note that the Wave containing this column is now in bold and at the top of my Inbox. I click and see his note. I add a threaded reply, also IM-style, sheepishly acknowledging that I was just having a bit of fun.

I see her typing him response to me, letter for letter. Good, he handled that well. Then I see the offending paragraph vanish.

(But how do you keep on top of all of these little conversations and changes? Each Wave has a timeline at the top. You can “reverse” or “fast-forward” through the timeline as though it was a YouTube video, witnessing the Wave change and evolve.)

My column has now been edited. My editor drags another participant into the Wave. This new guy is actually a little piece of software called a “robot,” located on a central server. The robot can now share in the process. This particular bot adds this article to the front page of the site, without any of the private comments between me and my editor.


Oh. Did I say that this software is called a “Widget”? No, no: it’s a “Robot.” Damn and blast. Well, I mean, it’s a day later and I’m at lunch with somebody besides. What can I do about it?

Well, I can get out my iPhone, open up my Wave client on the phone’s built-in web browser, and make the change. And come to think of it, I now have a really great screenshot of Wave in action. I drag it into the Wave right where I want it to appear.

My editor — who is still part of this particular Wave — sees it immediately in his Inbox.

Oh, and remember: the “put this on” robot is part of the Wave. He sees that change, too. So my edits immediately reflected on the website. In fact, anybody who happened to have been reading the column at the time could see each of those changes being applied, at the very instant that I was making them, one at a time.

They can’t change the article themselves, of course (anarchy!) but there’s an unbroken pipeline between myself, my editor, and

Wave defines the standards, the architecture, and the mechanisms for making the above example happen. In fact, even the “Google Mail-like window” I described isn’t Wave. It’s merely the way that Google has implemented its own standards into something useful.

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