BIGWIG Showcase: Google’s New Wave Changes Everything

July 15, 2009

At the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase July 13, eight presenters gave brief talks on trends in social software in a “speed-dating” format, where each presenter had 10 minutes to talk to a roving audience. I was most interested in hearing Jason Griffey's talk on Google Wave, a product that, I admit, I hadn't paid much attention to until his presentation. Jason Griffey explains Google Wave Griffey introduced Google Wave as a completely new communications protocol, which combines chat and email for “synchronous and asynchronous communication that's both public and private." Griffey conceded that it's difficult to explain and points to his presentation and to Google's for a good start. "It's like email if email were invented in the 21st century," he said. We have four different types of online communication today, according to Griffey: email, chat and IM, forums, and Twitter. Among these communication protocols, email is the oldest, with wireless email transmissions as we know them today dating back to 1971. Since then, we have created better, prettier, and more sophisticated ways to handle our email, but the raw transmission and the protocols to transmit the information have changed little. But most other areas of networked computing have changed drastically. Technology has advanced to offer, among other things, better and faster hardware, cheaper and more compact storage, better server-side software handling, and better protocols for handling end user-generated content. But despite major advances in networked computing, email and chat have remained largely unchanged at their core: The basic metaphor of email is snail mail. Messages travel from Person A to Person B. Person B can respond by sending a message back. Google Wave differs because conversations are hosted. They exist in one place–a Google server somewhere–and don't have to travel from one user's server to another's. This changes everything, according to Griffey. The Wave format lends itself well to Gadgets and widgets, and Waves can be embedded on websites and blogs. And it's open-sourced. Beta testing will begin later this year. It seems like this is just the beginning of what Waves can do, but the tip of the iceberg was all we got with a 10-minute "speed dating" session. Still, it was enough to pique my interest. I was also struck by the similarities between the email paradigm and cataloging, search, and retrieval in libraries: electronic cataloging, like electronic mail, follows the metaphor of its physical predecessor. MARC, an old protocol, mimics card catalogs. How we search OPACs mimics how we used to search card catalogs. Still struck by John Blyberg's prediction at Top Tech Trends that libraries' back-end systems will someday have to catch up with their front-end interfaces, I wonder what online library catalogs would look like if online catalogs were (re)invented in the 21st century.