Grokking Google Wave: The Homeland Security Use Case (And Why You Should Care)
In the past few days I've been following the news about the failed attempt to blow up Northwest 253 on Christmas Day, and the finger-pointing among various agencies that's followed it. More particularly, I've been thinking less about whose fault it is and more about how social media / collaboration tools might be applied to reduce the chance of a Missed Connection like this.
A lot of the comments by folks in these agencies went something like, "Well, they didn't tell us that they knew X," or "We didn't think we needed to pass this information on." What most of these comments have in common is that they're rooted in a model of person-to-person (or point-to-point) communication, which creates the possibility that one might "be left out of the loop" or "not get the memo".
For me, this created a helpful context for understanding how Google Wave is different from email and IM, and why the difference is important. Google Wave's issue isn't that the fundamental concept's not a good idea. It is. Rather, its problem is that it's paradigmatically foreign to how most people (excepting the wikifringe) still think.
Put simply, Google Wave makes conversations ("Waves") primary, and who's participating secondary. Email, in contrast, makes participants primary, and the subjects of conversations secondary. In Google Wave, with the right permissions, folks can opt into reading and participating in conversations, and they can invite others. The onus for awareness shifts from the initiator of a conversation to folks who have the permission and responsibility to be aware of the conversation. (Here's a good video from the Wave team that explains the difference right up front.) If the conversation about Mr. Abdulmutallab's activities had been primary, the focus today would be about who read the memo, rather than who got it. That would be good. I'd rather we had a filtering problem than an information access / integration problem.
You may well ask, "Isn't the emperor scantily clad -- how is this different from a threaded bboard?" Great question. One answer might be that "Bboards typically exist either independently, or as features of separate purpose-specific web sites. Google Wave is to threaded bboard discussions as Google Reader is to RSS feeds -- a site-independent conversation aggregator, just as Google Reader is a site-independent content aggregator." Nice! Almost: one problem of course is that Google Wave today only supports conversations that start natively in Google Wave. And, of course, that you can (sometimes) subscribe to RSS feeds of bboard posts, as in Google Groups, or by following conversations by subscribing to RSS feeds for Twitter hashtags. Another question: "How is Google Wave different from chat rooms?" In general, most chats are more evanescent, while Waves appear (to me) to support both synchronous chat and asynchronous exchanges equally well.
Now the Big Question: "Why should I care? No one is using Google Wave anyway." True (only 1 million invitation-only beta accounts as of mid-November, active number unknown) -- but at least 146 million people use Gmail. Others already expect Google Wave eventually will be introduced as a feature for Gmail: instead of / in addition to sending a message, you'll be able to start a "Wave". It's one of the top requests for the Wave team. (Gmail already approximates Wave by organizing its list of messages into threads, and by supporting labeling and filtering.) Facebook, with groups and fan pages, appears to have stolen a march on Google for now, but for the vast bulk of the world that still lives in email, it's clunky to switch back and forth. The killer social media / collaboration app is one that tightly integrates conversations and collaboration with messaging, and the prospect of Google-Wave-in-Gmail is the closest solution with any realistic adoption prospects that I can imagine right now.
So while it's absurdly early, marketers, you read it here first: Sponsored Google Waves :-) And for you developers, it's not too early to get started hacking the Google Wave API and planning how to monetize your apps.
Oh, and Happy New Year!