The Future is Waving at You

, Monday, November 23rd, 2009

The future is here, and its name is Wave.

Not really… but the much anticipated Google Wave has arrived in “preview” mode. When Google says “preview,” they mean “we can’t call it beta yet”, and it’s available through a limited number of invitations to people who are willing to deal with lots of bugs in order to get an early peek at this tool.

The idea behind Wave is that email has been around, mostly unchanged, for a long time – so Wave purports to be what email would have been if it were developed using today’s technology and for today’s web user. Not everyone feels that Google’s description of Wave is accurate, however. Daniel Tenner blogged recently that Wave is not communications 2.0 at all, saying:

“Is Wave the next Twitter? Nope. Is it the next Facebook? Nope. Is it going to replace Instant Messengers? Possibly, in some circumstances, but not any time soon.. I believe this is partly Google’s fault: they released Wave to geeks and hackers and social media folks first. But Wave is not a geek/hacker tool, or a social media tool, it’s a corporate tool that solves work problems (more on that later). On the other hand, they never claimed it would be a Facebook replacement or a Twitter killer.”

Confused yet? Check out a new collaborative user manual, read Lifehacker’s introduction, or Google’s hefty hour-long demo (below), and you’ll have a good idea of what it’s all about.

A few of us at Beaconfire were lucky enough to get early invites to check it out for ourselves, and we spent some time this week stumbling around the tool, learning the ropes. The result is this post, co-authored by Jo, Amadie and Tim.

Clearly Google Wave is still very rough around the edges, not yet ready for public consumption, but it feels full of potential. Lots of people have been brainstorming cool uses for it. We started to wonder where it could go – and as non-profit consultants, what could it mean for us?  So we co-authored this post (in Wave!) to think about that question.

So let’s imagine that in 5 years, Wave is the new Thing To Do on the web, it’s matured into a full-featured product, and it’s met all Google’s goals of becomingemail 2.0. (Maybe it’s Google Wave, or maybe it’s another tool with the same vision.) What does it mean for non-profits?

For one thing, the “email blast” will no longer make sense. Heck, according to the Wall Street Journal, email is practically dead already. It will probably be possible to send out static, un-editable messages, but doing so neglects the best features of the tool. Some non-profits will probably send out “wave blasts” (the same non-profits who are now tweeting their press releases), but most will be listening to their subscribers and collaborating with them on a more intense level than even Facebook or Twitter currently allow. This could be an incredibly cool thing, especially for small, grassroots organizations who really want to connect with the people.

wave

The barrier between your website and your “email” (now Wave) list will shrink almost to non-existence. You can embed your waves in your site, and parts of your site in your waves. Conversations can take place both on subscriber’s own Wave accounts and on publicly accessible webpages, and flow seamlessly between the two. Not only that, but your supporters won’t have to visit your website to donate or take action. With Wave’s open framework, it’ll only be a matter of time before you can put a “write to Congress” widget in your wave, so users can write a letter on the spot (or even help each other write personalized letters), send it, and put their name on a list of signers that’s immediately visible to other participants in the wave. Imagine the impetus to act if you can literally watch other people taking action as you read an appeal. (You can’t do that with a Facebook app!)

Committees, boards, and affiliates all can benefit from the collaborative nature of waves. From developing agendas to conducting subcommittee or ad hoc group projects to collaborating on or reviewing white papers or other group documents, it is possible to bypass the back-and-forth emails and multiple document versions that plague the managers of these projects.

Conferences can become richer experiences, with longer lifespans. Have you ever tried to follow a conference through attendees’ tweets? A wave can organize the backchannel chatter into nearly coherent topical (and perhaps even substantive) conversations and avoid the headache of paging through endless (and often repetitive) hashtags ordered only by timestamps.

For now, those lucky enough to have received invitations are not only struggling to find enough other users to create waves with, but with what to “wave” about at all. While Google bills this as the next generation of email, it really feels more like a business collaboration tool than a 2.0 communication engine. But Wave is open source and Google plans to release the code so that you can set up your own Wave server, using whatever email addresses or usernames you want and build custom applications on top of it. Only time will tell what those applications are and whether they influence, or even change, the way that non-profits do business.

2 Responses to “The Future is Waving at You”

  1. Melinda Lewis Says:

    So, not having been one of the ‘invited ones’, I admit I’m still not 100% sure how this looks/works–I’m one who has to use technology before I feel really comfortable with it, but it sounds like your characterization as a business/communication facilitation tool is a pretty accurate one. The ideas for advocacy are particularly compelling, especially as people could use the technology to dynamically share the responses they’re getting, propose changes in targets/messages in real time, and develop more strategic campaigns in collaboration with far-flung activists. What’s the timeline for the complete roll out?

  2. Making Waves in Advocacy « Classroom to Capitol Says:

    [...] favorite macro social work blogger?) But I’ve been reading quite a bit about Google Wave and how it works, including some very helpful posts with detailed screen captures that demonstrate how it works. And [...]