November 12, 2009

Catch the Wave?

This was written for the Georgia Library Media Association.

Empowering Learners encourages us to become early adopters of digital sources of information to better serve our stakeholders. I’ve never considered myself a “tech” person but have always liked to stay relatively current and aware of the exciting and ever-changing digital landscape. I blog, I wiki, I can hold my own in a discussion of cloud computing or mashups or whatever. But I’ve never considered myself an early adopter. I didn’t get a DVD player until the price came down and it was easier to rent a DVD than a VHS. I didn’t get a Gmail until 2005. My blog archive only goes back to 2007. I was a late adopter (and early abandoner) of Twitter.

But now I feel all special and “early adopter”-ish with my invitation to Google’s new digital platform, Wave.

I know, I know, some of you are saying “Huh? What’s that?” and a few might be saying, “I want in!”

Well, for those who don’t know I’ll explain a bit about it and what I think it’s going to be good for, but for those desperate others, don’t get too excited just yet.

Google Wave is in “preview” mode which is even earlier than “beta.” They say it’s their idea of what email would be like if someone were to invent email now rather than 40 years ago. It’s part email, part chat, part wiki.

There’s good and there’s bad.

The bad is that if you get an invite you may sign in and find there’s nobody else in your contact list available to “wave” with you and it can seem like a big lonely place. I’m sure that’ll be corrected as soon as they’ve tweaked it and are ready to roll it out to the public. But there are ways to get into the water, as it were, and soon enough you’ll find yourself figuring things out.

The other drawback to instant domination is that it’s not as immediately intuitive as, say, blogging or most social networking sites. With those you sign up, create a profile, and you’re off. With Wave, you would do well to read something like this which can give you the what’s what on the best way to get around. Yes, that’s an online book that will probably be updated constantly as the bugs in the system are worked out. But unlike most other platforms, Wave isn’t strictly chronological, so it takes a bit of a different mindset than a straightforward up and down list of posts or emails. At it’s best, it’s the best parts of the powerful collaboration tools you’ve been using online. At worst, it’s the worst parts of online chat and discussion forums.

So if you’re still reading, you’re probably asking what’s the good and why should teacher-librarians care?

The good is that when you get it going for you, you realize that this will be a fantastic collaborative tool on many levels and that’s what we are all about. It will blow some current tools out of the water.

When you open it up, it looks kinda like an email platform. You have an inbox and folders. You have contacts. You can use it like email, click on one of your contacts, type a message and send it. They can respond. But instead of separate emails, this “wave” can go on and on as long as you like. And if your friend is online at the same time you are it’s like instant chat. And I do mean instant because you can see each other type and edit live. No more “X is typing” messages as you listen to the clock tick. But it gets better because you can start a wave with one person and start collaborating on, say, a document. Then you can add another contact and they instantly have access to the entire wave and can immediately collaborate. So now it’s like email and/or chat and/or online document collaboration and/or a wiki all at the same time.

You think back-channeling at the AASL conference was cool with Twitter? Just wait until you have the ability to do a wave instead. I don’t have a Twitter account, but I wanted to see what I’d missed so I went there and did a search on #aasl2009 and scrolled through pages and pages of interesting but incredibly repetitive tweets and retweets. With wave a presenter could throw up a wave, and you could all collaborate, take notes, comment on and edit the entire thing live. As it’s happening. And keep it for future use or collaboration. No, really. Check out this post for more on that.

But that scenario won’t happen until Google Wave is out of Preview and at least up to Beta. So don’t rush into it yet unless you don’t mind a little mess and confusion. But do keep it on your radar so when it comes to you, you can be ready to catch the Wave.