Google Wave for Journalism, A #hackshackers Event

Google isn’t just thinking of Wave as another web app that it creates and you use on one site — it wants you to be able to use it across all sites on the web. Say, for example, you have a blog. As a post, you could share a wave with the public and allow others to see what you and the other people in your wave are doing. And these visitors to your blog could even join in as well right from your blog, and all the information would be placed right into the original wave.

via Google Wave Drips With Ambition. A New Communication Platform For A New Web

Tonight I hit a few personal firsts. It was my first meetup, first time at the Googleplex, and first time getting a product demo of Google Wave from a live person.

…because that's all this meetup was. A product demo. Which was probably great for some of the room who had either not seen Wave before (very few people) or who didn't grok the potential (a good many more) – but far less entertaining for those of us who lapped up the initial product demo and wanted specifics on how Wave is good for journalism.

Before I go any further – a sincere thank you to Google and the Google folks who were very gracious hosts. Providing a very comfortable meeting place, staying late to answer questions, let alone taking the time to talk with us at all is a step well above what most any other company is willing to do. It's a brilliant feather in Google's cap, and speaks well of their commitment to transparency and the Wave product.

There were a few questions asked by journalists about how to use Wave for journalism:

'Can we have an off-the-record conversation so the Wave won't be in the caught in the Google cache?'

'What does a Wave journalistic workflow look like?'

These, and all other questions were answered with the well-rehearsed zeal of a PR team pitching their product.

To be fair, Wave is in preview mode right now (apparently, preview comes before a beta), so anything and everything we see in Wave is considered broken and incomplete until told otherwise. Further, I completely appreciate the desire for Wave to be a clean-break from our traditional forms of communication, but the devotion that the Wave folks perpetuated for their product came off somewhere between arrogance and zealot-ness.

Hindsight

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's very far off, but Wave truly does have the potential to replace email, Word, IM, blogs, and most other communication tools. But, it seems that Google has blinders on – pitching what they have now as The Answer is looking 2 product generations ahead and too far.

Functions of Google Wave

Wave probably should have been pitched as an event coordinator. It's the most common use case Google presented tonight, and seems to be the most practical, current, application of Wave. Presenting Wave as an all-in-one solution for planning a lunch outing or meeting, and then showing how it can be used for notes and/or a backchannel is a solid pitch – and a good reason to add another inbox to the pile.

Think of it this way: Twitter was pitched as a micro-blogging platform, not a replacement to blogging. Nonetheless, we all woke up one day to realize we were blogging less and tweeting more. Wave can take the same approach. A few generations down the road, when Google has worked out all the kinks of public waves, speed, privacy, federation, UI and so on, we'll all wake up to discover that we're using email less and Wave more.

A Hole in the Wave Workflow: Copy to New Wave

Wave, as it specifically applies to journalism, wasn't touched on much at the meetup. I do want to address one glaring hole in the currently suggested Wave workflow.

Suppose you're writing an article in Wave and us the inline chat function with your editors. When it comes time to publish, you're not likely to want deleted information about sources… or financial data… or discussions about your blue~ish cat to be visible to the public.

Copy to new wave
The copy to new wave function.

Google's current solution is the feature aptly titled "copy to new wave." This brings just the text of the blip over to a new wave, erasing the history and conversations. This gives you a "work wave" and a "final product wave." That's where this issue arises.

First, maintaining two waves for a single topic is data-duplication as sounds very un-Wavy, and un-Googly. More practically, this solution breaks down when embedding a Wave.

If a story is breaking news, the first time the wave is published there might be just a few lines of copy. As the story develops, this will be expanded. On the surface, this seems like a perfect use case for Wave. However, if you have to maintain two waves you can't keep creating a new wave to embed when you're ready to move content off your work wave and onto the published wave. Followers, their comments, and contributions aren't copied over – and it will make a mess of your inbox.

Clearly, this solution is imperfect. The simplest solution I can see is to expand the power of the draft mode to allow groups of users to collaborate on a section of the wave. Oh, and allow for the true deletion of blips – remove them from playback too. (Perhaps this is triggered by alt-clicking delete?)

Notes

Some brief notes I took at the meetup. I did enjoy the event and am looking forward to the next Hacks & Hackers.

  • The pre-meetup wave. With polling data!
  • The Google-created, post-meetup wave. With minutes!
  • The reason given for Wave's playback feature was to allow users first joining a complex Wave to catchup. This makes me realize – Waves shouldn't be so complex that you need to catchup. Wikipedia, for example is always an organized page to look at – though it hides the discussion in a separate tab. What Wave needs to do is enable two views: one that presents the final product, and one that shows the inline discussion and misc blips.
  • Twitter was the back channel, not wave.
  • Google envisions wave as the single inbox
  • Great point from Google folk about bots in Wave: they can be used to pull content in. This is a pretty good case for Waves being used as Topics.
  • Rosy is an extension being worked on for live translation.
  • The solution to hiding your work is to create a new wave, but this seems non-embed friendly.
  • Google will allow read only, anon, public, access
  • The pitch to use wave as a conference back channel sounds identical to twitter - and almost a total failure to recognize that Twitter is being used for that already
  • Basically all the use cases we've already heard presented: event planning, meeting notes, panel notes
  • One hour, seven minutes into the talk we officially see some real journalism examples finally getting to real jour. examples
  • A magazine on wave - looks crappy, but does lead to a good question about Wave allowing customizable, and better looking waves (e.g. text-wrapped images) – and isn't answered.
  • Google folk sounding very zealot like, politically correct, with good PR, but almost… oblivious.

I went expecting to have a conversation about what journalists need out of a next-gen communication/content creation system. What I got was a generic pitch for a half-done product from a faux marketing team who were more politically correct than informative. I leave you with this closing thought:

Updated with a section re: workflow related to creating new waves and privacy one day after the original post.
Google Wave for Journalism, A #hackshackers Event

Joey Baker

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I write code most days. Prevously: photojournalist, EMT. Somewhat obsessed with jouralism.