GCN Lab Impressions

Google Wave: A big splash for government, or just all wet?

I have to admit that I’m not easily impressed by new technology. A decade spent in the GCN Lab hearing pie-in-the-sky ideas that haven’t panned out have made me a bit skeptical. But the new Google Wave application has some surprising merit in terms of productivity that I can’t ignore.

At first I didn’t really see the advantage of Google Wave, but after playing around with the very early beta, I realized that I had accomplished significantly more in a shorter period of time than I would have with traditional tools such as e-mail and instant messaging.

Wave is basically a huge collaboration engine. Like a fax machine, it only really works if multiple people have the application installed. If they do, they can combine their e-mail, instant messaging and file sharing into one screen. This could be an advantage if set up privately within a government organization, though it could also be disastrous if acting as a link between government and the public. Without any filters, it would be too easy for government employees to type the wrong information, which would be instantly available to everyone looking at the Wave page.

So let’s assume that Wave is set up within an organization. The biggest advantage I found was that, while one person is typing, the characters typed are being transmitted in real time. The person or people receiving the information can even begin typing their response before the first person is finished. You would think that this would get annoying with people talking (or typing) over one another. But really, our brains work so much faster than our fingers that it’s OK. You don’t end up staring at the "please wait" screen in a standard IM window while the other person types.

As a result, you don’t waste any time in formulating your reply. Conversations go so much faster this way and don’t seem to get out of hand even with many participants. Your brain can almost always keep up. It’s just like sitting around a table at your local pub with multiple people talking at the same time. It’s easy to zero in on what you think is important and participate in the chat.

Even with the speed advantages, there are times when you don’t want people to read what you’re saying until you’ve proofed it and hit the send button. In those cases, Google is adding a check box to restrict Wave from showing your text before you approve it. Those that have accidentally replied to all on an e-mail will surely appreciate that feature, though I’m sure someone will find a way for embarrassing situations to crop up anyway.

Google Wave might not be aimed specifically at government users, but if built in a tightly controlled environment where the actual middleware that is hosting and storing the conversations is internal and secure, it could be a great advantage. I’m reminded of the way that Jabber (now owned by Cisco) brought instant messaging into government in a secure setting. Google Wave will probably have to do the same thing if it wants to crack the government market; otherwise it will become one more tool that is forbidden within federal agencies — and really, with good reason.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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