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Google Wave the next social media phenomenon and journalistic tool?

Google Wave the next social media phenomenon and journalistic tool?

Speaking at the Google I/O Developer Conference that took place in San Francisco between May 27-28, Google has unveiled Google Wave, a new online communication service.

Described as a "personal communication and collaboration tool," Google Wave allows users to chat and share documents including audio files, videos and photos in real-time.
Google Wave: What is it and how does it work?

Created as an open-source platform, Vic Gundotra, VP of engineering for Google explained the reasons for this: "It's open sourced for many reasons. Not only do we want to contribute to the Internet but frankly we need developers to help us complete this product and we need your support."

What makes Google Wave particularly revolutionary is the real-time aspect. Whereas most social media tools involve an element of waiting around as one person waits for another to respond, with a message such as "Person X is typing" usually appearing in the corner, Wave allows users to see what's being typed as instantly as it appears on the typer's screen. In the case of sensitive information sharing, an opt-out button allows users to conceal what they are writing until they hit the "send" button.

Google Wave is the brain-child of Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the brothers who bought us Google Maps. They explain they wanted to "rethink what a single communications platform might look like if we started from scratch." Lars asked the 4,000-strong audience: "What would email look like if it were invented today?" The idea, they say, was to start with a clean slate, rather than have today's Internet reality determine what could be possible in the future or even present. By readjusting this approach, they were able to look at online communication in fresh and innovative ways.

The project has been ongoing for two years and since then has expanded along with the team, who have added seemingly simple functions that risk rendering current communication platforms "backward" by comparison. For instance, a document uploaded on Wave can be edited by multiple users in one go, with changes appearing instantaneously, adding a new spin to the term "team work." This applies to basically any file that gets added and represents a new level of efficiency not previously seen on such services.

A "playback" function allows for users joining a conversation at the latter stages to see how the chat precisely developed. Another interesting feature Google Wave is currently working on is its ability to integrate and embed existing communications systems, including Twitter, with an update to Wave, for instance, automatically updating Twitter when the option is selected. A sophisticated spellchecker means a misspelled word is put into the greater context of the sentence, with "been soup" changed to "bean soup" accordingly. While "how have you bean" automatically gets changed to "how have you been." Better still is a chat function which allows one user to speak to another in one language and have the text appear in another. Google aims to have Wave operating in 40 languages with translations being possible from any pair within the range. To date, computer translators are not refined enough to correctly translate beyond a few isolated words, but Google seems confident that it has cracked this.

What does Google Wave mean for journalists?

Given Wave lends itself towards online collaboration, some people are already looking at the service as a potential news tool for journalists. With its roots firmly in multimedia and functions that facilitate group document editing and the like, Wave provides an economical and effective new way for professionals to communicate across all sectors, particularly lending itself to the way newsrooms around the globe are organised. The ability to exchange thoughts and documents in real-time is bound to prove a strong allure for time-deprived news organisations.

Writing on his blog BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis, speculates on just how Wave may help news:

Imagine a team of reporters - together with witnesses on the scene - able to contribute photos and news to the same Wave (formerly known as a story or a page). One can write up what is known; a witness can add facts from the scene and photos; an editor or reader can ask questions. And it is all contained under a single address - a permalink for the story - that is constantly updated from a collaborative team.

Unable to disguise his excitement, Jarvis goes on to say: "Wave isn't just the email we'd invent if email were invented today, as was Google's goal. Wave is what news can be if we invent it today, as we must. Wave is the new news."

By all accounts, the media appears to have reacted well to Google's latest announcement, which is in stark contrast to the way many within the industry have criticised the news aggregator for feeding off the work of newspapers and news agencies alike.

Although, speaking to RTBF's Damien Van Achter, who attended the conference, Google co-founder Sergey Brin defended the Google/press relationship as follows: "I think the newsroom is already on the cloud, whether it's websites, blogs, whatnot, and I think sometimes the media gets caught up in some type of antagonistic relationship with us but really we have a great relationship with many newspapers ... We paid 6 billion dollars to content owners last year."

Stephanie Hannon, Wave project manager told Van Achter: "We hope we are giving you [journalists] the platform today. We think this is an amazing tool for journalists. You can go in there with your collaborators; people you write articles for; you can be in a Wave together; you can simultaneously edit content; you can be searching the web and you can be dropping in content: "Now I'm going to use this link", "I'm going to use this photo" and the best thing I think for journalists is revision history. We store every single operation that happens on the Web so you can use this sort of playback mechanism ... The newsroom can go in the cloud."

Google Wave, which is due to go live later this year, seems promising as the content management system that many news outlets have been crying out for, additionally offering a new and better way for the public to interact and work with journalists. For instance, Google Wave could be implemented by newsrooms in order to break news, although using Wave in the public domain beyond this will need some further thought. As Brian Greenberg commenting on Jarvis' site notes:

There is something to be said about "crafting an e-mail" or "writing a news article" or "publishing a book." Most of the time, I don't want the recipients of my e-mails or Word documents to read them as I'm writing them. I want to go back and edit, add points, restructure sections that aren't clear, etc. When it's done, then it can be "published" (i.e., Sent).

While people are right to be cautious and ask such questions we recognise that for the first time, a news story will be able to grow and transform itself online as it does in the real world - this is a ground-breaking tool that hacks everywhere will want to get their hands on. With that said, reporters and editors alike should bear in mind that while Wave affords them the opportunity to concentrate on content and worry less about the platform, they should take the hand that Google has extended.

By making Wave open-sourced, Google is, after all inviting developers to interact and improve their product and newspapers should look at investing accordingly for an expert to tailor-make Wave to cater for the industry's needs. In any case, what newspaper groups must not do is become complacent and just concentrate on the content, despite suggestions to the contrary. As the newspaper business model debate has already thrown up, existing newspaper templates in print and online must continually adapt and change. Google Wave should inspire news groups but news groups should not make the mistake of thinking the answer to their prayers has landed.

Sources: Wave.Google.com , BuzzMachine , Periodistas 21 , Telegraph.co.uk , RTBF.be , TechTarget


Links

Author

Soraya Kishtwari

Date

2009-06-03 13:21

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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