On September 30, one of the most anticipated sentences I’ve read showed up in my in-box: “We’re happy to give you access to Google Wave and are enlisting your help to improve the product.”
Reporting my happy news on Twitter earned me a deluge of requests for one of the eight invites (er, “nominations”) that came with the preview account. I quickly spent a bunch of them on collaborators for current projects, but I also dedicated two to getting my wife and nine-year-old son signed up. For me, the promise of Google Wave is tied to how it will help my family communicate and learn.
Wave is a combination of chat, wiki and email. One or more people can contribute to a particular thread, editing the “blips” and watching each other type in real time (something that is both freaky and instructive). TechCrunch referred to waving as “passive aggressive communication,” meaning you can choose to either engage in real-time or review activity at your own pace. It is both a product and a platform. Better features are coming once developers sink their collective teeth into the API.
For all the positive buzz about people clamoring for invites, however, initial reviews question its practical value.
As is clear to anyone creating an account, Wave is dependent on community. The growth of the community is tightly controlled by the invitation strategy (newer accounts don’t always get any invites to share), which leaves one feeling a bit lonely until other people show up. It is also very task-oriented, sort of the anti-Twitter. Right now, one doesn’t go to Wave to consume information as much as co-create it with others.
Wave is clearly incomplete. It is a platform with only a few applications, most of which are exercising developer muscles in anticipation of future innovation. Wave lacks two vital technical features—integration with Google Docs, and notification of activity—and is perceived by some as too complicated. Fixes will undoubtedly appear over time, spawned by Google or future Wave developers, but for the moment users have to work within the existing system.
Waving to Your Kids
Earlier this week, Gina Trapani published a few great uses for Google Wave. In particular, the product is expected to benefit domains like business—for example, Twiliobot can transcribe phone calls—and education. Here are five ways to wave that are relevant to family life.
1) To-Do Lists
I have never been a Remember The Milk kind of guy, but the rigors of an academic workload forced me to start each day with a list of the 1-3 tasks I need most to complete. That practice evolved into thinking about those daily lists a couple weeks in advance. Recently, I migrated my short-term planning from a text file on my desktop to a wave, sharing it with my wife. When we both understand what nature of hell is coming my way, it allows us to adjust plans for meals, bedtime rituals, or how we support our kids’ LEGO habit.
2) Show and Tell
My current methods of sharing links include Twitter, Twine, and SocialBrowse. Sometimes, I’ll paste a link in an IM to my wife, but rarely do I forward links to other people through email. By creating a wave that my family can access, the interesting stuff we find can be posted in a blip, creating a home for that information that has some permanence but is easier to find later on. I share the Mythbuster’s PSA on flu prevention and the existence of micro pigs, and I get the German name for Super Mario boss, Sechs-Fratzen-Fritz. It is also easier now to find the #6 bus schedule home.
3) Bedtime Stories
My boys and I are currently in the middle of 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, but we have been known to spin our own yarns at bedtime. Many of these stories are formula, involving Scooby Doo unmasking ghouls who turn out to be mean farmers trying to cash in on a real estate scheme. I’ve also borrowed heavily from movie plots. The more tired I become, the more lead time I need to think of something original to tell them at night. Opening up a wave with my son allows him to suggest some characters and situations during the day that we can brainstorm into something presentable by evening. Plus, the blips become records for future iterations that can lead to later writing projects and future comic book sales.
4) Online Scavenger Hunt
Google integrates web search into Waves, which opens up the possibility for a real-time collaborative search. Many of the shows my son watches on Discovery or the History Channel lead to questions that can be answered online. Wave’s playback feature lets me follow how he came to the answers, even when I’m not available to help him in real time. We can also make a game of it, such as trying to be the first to find the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (As a good next-gen geek, he already knows that one by heart.)
5) Help Desk
Questions arise during the day that may be beyond my son’s search skills, or (gasp) even beyond the vast knowledge of the Web. For those moments, an open wave can become both a troubleshooting resource and a potential FAQ he can refer to later. Perhaps Google will save me a hundred repetitions by simply aggregating all of the places around the house where the kids’ shoes might be.
Obviously, there is nothing in the above list that can’t be done through other channels. Teaching a pre-teen how to edit a wiki, though, doesn’t seem to be as simple as teaching him to wave. Google isn’t a replacement for conversation, but it can facilitate good communication when talk is impossible.