Most of Google's news tools are fairly self-explanatory. Fast Flip enables users to flick through different news sources. Living Stories collects all the developments about a single story on a single URL. And of course Google News aggregates news, and has been a source of ongoing conflict between Google and news publishers. But Google Wave notoriously confuses its first time users. There's even a gently mocking website dedicated to things that are easier to understand than Google Wave.
First launched as an invitation-only preview, Google Wave is billed as both a conversation and a document. It's a little like email, but also real-time and collaborative. One potential use of the tool is as a platform for collaborative journalism: different participants could add notes, information and images to a story.
It can also be used for community building, and the blog Journalism 2.0 has offered one possible example of what this might look like. A guest post by Hilary Fosdal, the interactive content manager for Barrington Broadcasting in Illinois, explains the way that the Chicago Tribune's RedEye website uses Google Wave.
Every day at 10.30am, the RedEye blog creates a public wave on their cover story. An editor posts the topic of discussion as well as a link to RedEye's coverage, and announces the topic via Twitter. Then participants arrive and discuss the topic with each other and the editor. At the end of the wave, the editor asks for suggestions on how to improve the wave.
Of course, one of the distinctive features of Google Wave is that conversations on the platform are not necessarily linear, so comments can be added higher up in the conversation window, out of sight without scrolling.
"A wave with a large number of people is much like being at one end of a long dinner table and trying to catch the conversation at the other end...awkward, lively and full of possibilities," Fosdal writes.
Another newspaper which has held public waves is the Austin American-Statesman. Social media editor Robert Quigley has said that keeping discussion on topic is a challenge, but that he is eager to keep experimenting to see what is possible with the new tool. "People are enthusiastic and they want to talk about news," he said. "I was surprised how much discussion there was about the news."
Newspapers now use a variety of social media platforms, with the appointment of social media editors increasingly common. Google Wave has the potential to be used in a wide variety of ways by news publishers, not just to write stories, but also to discuss them with readers. It will take imagination on the part of newspapers, though, as well as a sustained effort to understand how this new tool works and how it can work best.