While I have been dipping my toes into the waters of Google Wave for awhile, this month I am taking the plunge (to push the water metaphor) and testing it out with 2 different groups.
The first is at SCoPE where Emma Duke-Williams from the University of Portsmouth is facilitating a discussion around tools for online collaboration. In addition to the usual SCoPE forums, we have been playing with Google Wave as one of those tools (join us as we muck around group:email@example.com).
The second project is much smaller where I am working with two members of my Masters cohort as part of our developing online communities course. We have an experiential learning task to facilitate a week long discussion around (oh, what a coinky-dink) collaborative tools. Talk about synchronicity. So we are using Wave to plan the session.
Google Wave is an interesting mix of both synchronous and asynchronous, something that is becoming more common with web apps. It is synchronous when it needs to be, and it is quite easy to chat and collaborate in real time in Wave. It is also easy to work asynchronously and come back to a Wave after the fact and add on or view an archive of a shared document or artifact. In the past year or two, with tools like Wave, Etherpad and even Twitter, I have been getting the feeling that the distinction we have used in e-learning between asyncrhonous and synchronous is beginning to blur and most of the tools we will use on a regular basis in the future will be able to be both.
Yesterday I had a synchronous chat in the SCoPE Wave with Sylvia Currie where we just happened to be in the same Wave at the same time. I am not sure why, but I find it oddly novel to go into Wave expecting to see asynchronously created content, and then suddenly seeing this little coloured cursor actively typing away and adding content. It’s kind of like walking into what you think will be an empty room and startling yourself when you notice the person working feverishly away at something at the table in the corner.
It’s this synchronous stuff about Wave that I seem to find myself adjusting to. When Sylvia and I started chatting, I noticed that, because you can see stuff as it is being typed, I became very conscious of what I was typing. For someone who is used to writing, rewriting and massaging all my asynchronous contributions to death, exposing the messyness of how my mind works felt disconcerting. When I write, I often start sentences, hit backspace 35 times, start over, move these words from over there to here and hack hack hack (don’t even get me started on my spleling). And knowing in the back of my mind that each keystroke is recorded and archived also makes me very aware of what I am typing knowing that once I hit a key, it is recorded forever in that Wave.
The flip side of that dilemma is that you can see the process – it is transparent, and if I was wanting to see an example of collaborative work when assessing a group project (for example) this kind of transparency into the process is gold.
Also, the archival ability of Wave is something I see as a real strength, but is going to require a mindshift in how I collaboratively work with others. Knowing that every keystroke is archived and can be reviewed at any time makes it slightly different than a wiki where only actual changes are recorded. I think this gives collaborators even more freedom to hack away at my work knowing the original is still there. Now, I am not sure about other people, but I know that editing someones words makes me feel uncomfortable, so instead of changing their Wave content, I find that I end up adding comments as a reply or within their post as a comment. But I am rethinking that after seeing how much crud it adds. I am beginning to realize that adding comments might actually be hurting Wave use by adding clutter. I think that, in the Wave world, we are supposed to liberally edit and change each others content. This is going to require a bit of negotiation between collaborators knowing that all content is fluid, even moreso I think, than with a wiki.
On a practical note, I notice that Google has added some notifications to Wave, which wweren’t there in the beginning. You can now get email notifications when Waves are updated. But I dislike email notifications, so instead I have been using the Google Chrome Wave notifier extension, which is turning into one of my most used extension during my Wave experiments this month. It sits unobtrusively in the top corner of Chrome and shows how many Google Wave updates are waiting for me in Waves I am taking part in. Very useful.
Photo by VespaGT used under Creative Commons license