Is Google WAVE the Next-Big-Thing in Social Learning?

wave-logoThe short answer is “no” or better “not yet.”

When Google WAVE was first announced there was a lot of excitement and buzz about the possibilities. Now that the developer preview is out and we’re getting a chance to work with it, I’d say WAVE is still about the possibilities.

If you’re not familiar with Google WAVE, it’s from the same two brothers who developed the Google Maps framework, Lars and Jens Rasmussen, and was announced as the next generation of email. Invented over forty years ago and based on the Postal Service model, email was never intended for the widespread and varied ways that it is used today.

There are a number of inherent problems with email as a primary means of communication — which it has become for many people. (The over use of Reply to All, being just one annoying example.) The Rasmussen brothers set out to redefine email as a real-time as well as asynchronous conversation in Google WAVE.

When Google first announced WAVE they released the news conference as an 80-minute video on youtube.com: http://wave.google.com/help/wave/about.html#video

If you’d like a bit more succinct overview here is Google’s 10-minute introduction to WAVE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6pgxLaDdQw

Having played with the developer preview for a few weeks now, I’d say that WAVE is not the next-generation of email so much as a framework for collaboration. The fact that it allows multiple people to work on, review and comment on a document at the same time makes it a natural for teams working to create material. One of the coolest features is the ability to Playback a WAVE, basically to review the comments, replies, etc. in the sequence in which they happened. This allows someone to join the work mid-way through and still see the historical picture of how the team’s progress has evolved.

he WAVE framework allows you to easily drag-n-drop all types of media into a wave (wave with a small “w” refers to an individual conversation/document). This means that the wave can become a container for documents, images, web-pages and videos that relate to the conversation. This aspect of WAVE could easily support Social Learning applications.

The other part of WAVE that has me excited is its extensibility using Gadgets and Robots. Basically, this is a plug-in architecture that will allow developers to create a variety of additional functions and interactions that you can use within a wave. Some of the current ones available, such as polling and maps, already suggest possibilities within a training context. The real proof will be in seeing what developers create.

wave-pollThe biggest challenge with WAVE is the signal-to-noise ratio. Currently, there are no tools (that I’ve discovered) to easily filter the conversations in order to hone in on particular areas or content. Yes, like all things Google, WAVE does feature fast and robust search, but since replying and commenting are real-time, (similar to Instant Messaging, but from everyone in the wave) it really doesn’t provide enough useful filtering. From a Social Learning stand-point, the ability to quickly filter and access the knowledge that you need is critical to the usefulness and success of any framework.

The other stumbling block is the User Interface (UI). It’s just too confusing for widespread use in its current form. As I stated in a previous post (put link here), one of the lessons learned from Twitter and Facebook for widespread adoption and use is “make it simple!” Google WAVE certainly can be powerful, but it is not simple, or at least not yet.

WAVE has a lot of potential. The Google WAVE team is undoubtly learning from the experiences of the early adopters and improving WAVE prior to its wider rollout. The real magic of WAVE though, will be when independent developers begin to create their own UIs and special applications using the WAVE framework. Once developers begin to understand the power of the framework, and begin to create Gadgets, Robots and User Interfaces that make the powerful collaboration and communication aspects simple to use, it just might become that next-big-thing in Social Learning.

Have questions about developing Social Learning within your organization? Contact Blueline Simulations.

  3 comments for “Is Google WAVE the Next-Big-Thing in Social Learning?

  1. Rad
    January 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Hi, Robert,

    Appreciate your article on WAVE. I, too, have been exploring it for about two weeks now and concurr with many of your points. Great potential,but not quite ready for prime time… yet.

    I’ll “wave” to you sometime soon. Given firewalls, etc. at Lilly, I’m forced to use WAVE at home and on my home PC.

    Talk with you soon,
    Raddrew@googlewave.com

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