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Why You Need to Check Out Google Wave

Yesterday I told you that good writing comes from great conversations and that, as a writer, you really need to check out Google Wave as a phenomenal tool for capturing and nurturing conversations. That advice probably left you with some serious questions, though.

It’s no surprise. Google Wave always starts out as a question.

  • For the people who’ve never heard of it, of course, the question is, “What’s Google Wave?”
  • For the people who listened patiently and carefully to your answer, the question is, “Wait, what?”
  • For the people who’ve looked into it, researched it a little bit, maybe tried it a time or two and then walked away, the question is, “What’s so special about it? How is it useful?”
  • For the people who designed Google Wave, though, the question was, “What would email look like if it were invented, for the first time, today?”

Google Wave is a communications infrastructure. It’s a system, like email, that’s designed to handle the discrete pieces of digital conversations, storing them, transferring them, and displaying them to create an effective exchange of information.

Unlike email, though, Wave-based communication is inherently interactive. It’s designed for real-time conversation and total permanent archive — two things we’ve done with email, but things email was never meant for. To support that new functionality, Wave-based communication can be generated as casually and spontaneously as email is, but in its permanence it can also be edited, maintained, and organized — features that keep the archived information accurate and clear.

It’s amazingly effective for project collaboration. But as I suggested in the end of yesterday’s post, collaborative or not, the writing process (especially prewriting) is inherently a gradual, cumulative process that depends on maintenance and organization.

Making and Maintaining Threads

Now, after three weeks of discussing Google Docs, I could forgive you for asking what’s supposed to be so special about Google Wave’s support for maintaining information. After all, I’ve been crowing this whole time about how easy it is to make, share, and collaboratively author documents in Google Docs.

The part that’s missing (or, rather, marginalized) in Google Docs is the conversation. While Docs is built around a traditional authoring model, Wave is built around a feedback model, allowing easy in-line markup and powerful discussion tools. These days Google Docs has real-time updating too (so you could hold a Wave-style chat in the body of a doc), but the Wave interface is designed to handle chats elegantly (and Google Docs to handle authoring and editing).

I’m not recommending that you use Wave to write your stories (and I’m really not recommending that you use Google Docs to hold chat sessions). Wave is amazing for prewriting, though.

In Wave, you literally build a document in pieces — discrete chunks called “blips” — and it’s possible to attach new information to the end of the conversation (like a traditional chat or email thread), but you can also insert comments between any two blips in the chain, or even start a new chain from a specified point in the middle of a block of text.

Weaving Threads Together

That structure provides much of the power of Google Wave. You could start a prewriting wave for a given project, with top-level blips for “Characters,” “Setting,” and “Plot.” Then use nested comments underneath each of those — a separate blip for each major character, blips for each of your major plot points with nested blips under them for each of the scenes that follows from that plot point.

That’s what I mean when I say Google Wave is amazing for capturing conversations, even if it’s a conversation with yourself. I started this all off talking about collaborative writing, though, and that’s where Wave really shines.

How to Use Google Wave to Collaborate on a Document

Imagine all those organizational features at use in a dialogue. If I’m chatting with you and you have to take a phone call, I can go on typing for ten minutes straight (and you know I would). By the time you get back, I could have passed through three new topics and be working on a fourth.

You can immediately start replying with in-line comments, though — inserting a new blip where I transitioned away from my first topic and carrying on that conversation. Then you could move on down the chain, even as I finish up my fourth and go back to reply to your comment on the first. Maybe that sounds confusing, but in no time at all it becomes surprisingly natural.

Even better…let’s change the scenario. Now you weren’t distracted by a phone call. Instead, you and I are working together on a project, from different timezones half a world apart.

The same process still works. I can spend all day writing as I have time and inspiration, go to bed just as you’re waking up, and you can work through the conversation at your own pace. When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll have a bunch of comments to answer, and a whole day to fill the wave with new information.

Of course…Wave is still in a preview state, which means it’s pretty quirky and (incidentally) invite-only. Even with those things going against it, I still think it’s an absolutely indispensable tool. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how to use Google Wave in your writing without getting frustrated (and how to get an invitation, if you want one).

5 Responses to “Why You Need to Check Out Google Wave”

  1. Gurl says:

    Interesting uses for Wave. I got an invite right after it first came out, but not many I knew were using it. I should check back to see if I have invites to share LOL Looking forward to tomorrow’s post 🙂

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      I’ve got everyone I know invited at this point, but it takes some deliberate effort to figure out how make it more useful than existing products, so most of the people I invited haven’t stuck around.

      I’ve got three or four friends who are very active in it, though, and just that is enough to make it incredibly useful for the projects we work on together.

  2. Google Docs + chatting = Amazing Technicolor Dreampages!


    Also, a screenshot of a Wave with lots of embedded chains might be a helpful visual for this article. :o)

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Courtney, for what it’s worth, it was my intention all along to have two or three awesomely illustrative screenshots in tomorrow’s (which is to say, today’s), but I ended up sitting up until four in the morning troubleshooting hardware problems and rebuilding my computer. So it’s a wonder today’s post (which is to say, Saturday’s) went live at all.

      I can probably catch some screenshots and backfill sometime this weekend, though. You’re right in thinking that I have a wealth of available subject matter ready to hand….

      • Courtney Cantrell says:

        What’s up with everyone’s ‘puters being on the fritz lately? I certainly hope said fritziness isn’t contagious…LoA or no! ;oD