Editorial

Surfing the Google Wave

To write a simple message, whether by Email or text, has for a long time been a method to announce one's happiness, anger and even one's tardiness. It's arguable that these virtual delivery services are somewhat impersonal; there are only the words on a computer screen — this is devoid of all other sensations. However, the word can be a powerful weapon to wield. One misses the little details, though. A smile, a happy feeling cannot be described in words as much as it can be simply shown.

Just weeks ago Google opened up the much anticipated Google Wave service. Its premise is one of ingenuity, to say the least. Imagine what Email would look like, had it been invented today; Google Wave is the answer. But for its ambitious aim to make us, the user, think different, it's decidedly unwieldy. When I logged in for the first time, I didn't know what I was doing. Its interface is confusing, if one doesn't make an effort to understand it. No innovation is innovative if the people aren't interested in using it. What makes Google Wave really a new thing, is that words alone aren't anymore the way to communicate.

In the wave Google wants us to include photos, maps and other so-called gadgets. Words are merely the frame for whatever content one chooses to publish in his or her wave. The concept of collaboration extends beyond the sharing of documents. Real-time annotations make it even more collaborative; now everyone involved can instantly contribute to a more polished text or project outline. Google Wave is of course no substitute for stand-alone programs like MS Office or Adobe Photoshop, rather an extension that makes these programs multi-player capable. With the help of tags searching becomes more efficient, which also expedites the workflow from beginning to end.

At first, the interface is unclear. One must figure out what's what and get used to the way the waves are laid out on the screen. On a bigger screen Google Wave spreads out its content more evenly, naturally. I also discovered that Chrome seems to be best browser to surf the waves, due to its superbly fast rendering of javascript. It takes a while before the page is finally loaded, but it's worth the wait. All of a sudden the whole world is literally populating your screen. The first time I published a public wave within minutes I had an American, a Chinese and a Portuguese chatting with me in real-time. We talked about geek subjects and real-life situations. We all agreed that Google Wave could very well be the future of communicating online. This platform offers infinite expendability — farther than Google's own Wave servers, to other web services — use cases are sheer endless. It's up to the developers now to make Google Wave into a great tool.

It's safe to assume that computers have changed the way we communicate forever. There are only a select few that refuse to make themselves dependant on technology. As of yet it's difficult to apprehend the practicality of this new collaborative platform; however, if developers embrace it, Google Wave can become a chief player on the Internet. Email seems so antiquated, once you give it a chance. The wave concept could embed deeper into the fabric than any other social network. This brings back memories of Hotmail's first 2 MB offering; a single MP3 file is larger than that. The time was 1998 and Hotmail was pretty much the paragon of Email services. In 2004 came along Gmail and, well, the rest is history now. And it remains a mystery in what ways Google Wave will, if at all, revolutionize how we communicate in matters both private and business.

When we send Emails and forward them to a long list of friends or colleagues it turns into a monster. A very amusing and informative video called "What is Google Wave" uses that word to illustrate what Google Wave attempts to simplify. A monster of attachments, forwarded messages, annotations and pictures even, is impossible to tame, yet alone to decrypt. In a wave this doesn't happen, since everything is more like a stream of thought, ever expanding with input from various contributors. Third-party agents, or robots, can specifically manipulate parts of the ongoing conversation. There is a real-time translation tool, for instance; it translates anything you write instantly into a language of your choosing. The best thing about it is that it actually works surprisingly well. Just like that there are robots that turn queries into searches on Wikipedia, or other websites.

It really feels like floating on a vast ocean of possibilities, each wave bringing with it a new way of publishing and presenting your ideas online. This brings me to a subject, which might concern many individuals. Privacy is of course a foreign word, at least at the moment. Soon there will be privacy settings, but once you make a wave public it stays in the public domain indefinitely. As with anything new it requires you take a leap of faith; if you recoil from this thought, than Google Wave probably isn't made for you. However, who can guess what people will say in 40 years. That's how long Email has been around. For people in the year 2049 Google Wave could be the quintessence of online communication. Considering the swift advancement of computers in the last 10 years, speculation is a futile act.

Google Wave won't make the world a better place, or even reverse the damages we've done to nature. It can help inspire such thinking, though; since it makes spreading news and ideas easer yet. Email has in its 40 years lifespan experienced its trial by fire, and now the question remains whether it will stand the test of time. It's amusing to conjecture, no less, but we really only care about what makes our life easier. As soon as people realize in what ways using a wave could render even the most obscure project crystal-clear, Google Wave is the refulgent victor. Does Email need saving, though?

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