Catch the Wave

I finally found time to view the video of Google Wave at the Google I/O 2009 developers’ conference. It’s nearly an hour and a half, so I’m starting this after about a third of it … If you’re in the collaboration business as a user, provider, or advisor, go watch it!

How many times have you tried to persuade colleagues that discussions should happen in the collaboration database, not via email? So we don’t have messages clogging the system. So  the discussion doesn’t diverge into multiple threads. So newcomers can catch up without someone having to send back copies of everything that’s gone one. Well, Wave starts by disposing of that problem. Because “a Wave” is a single threaded collection in one place, and it can look like email, or a collaboratively co-authored document, or a discussion, or any combination. And there’s replay, so even if you come late to a conversation you can see how it got to where it is – if it matters. And it can look like instant messaging too, if you and your colleague(s) are both online to Wave at the same time.

Lots of smart integration stuff. Embed your Wave in a blog – then updates can happen from the Wave client, or the blog page, or anywhere else it happens to be visible, and all manifestations update in real time. There’s only one copy – remember? Add pictures. And because Wave takes advantage of today’s network capabilities, edits can show up on everyone’s screens at once. Even concurrent edits. Even if they are backtracking stuff that was “sent” previously: no more sending emails to correct the correction you sent to the original incorrect email. Interactive meetings, anyone? On a mobile? It’s all there.

For the heavily technical: Wave relies on HTML 5 and, for one element which the new standard can’t handle,  a little of Gears. Google are pressing for this element to become part of the standard. For the object oriented among you: it screams Model-View-Controller out of every simultaneous update!

It’s been two years in the making, and this is only a preview (it will make it into the traditional Google Beta, i.e. release, later this year). Why now? For the same reason that Wave will be open sourced: Google wants to fire the imagination of smart developers, and harness them not just to build more smart apps in Wave but to improve the underlying platform too.

Even if you never adopt the tool itself, when it goes public later on, the ideas and the understanding about how collaboration works are an education in themselves. Email is decades old, so are bulletin boards. Why should we still work like that? Oh – and Wave can do translation in real time. As you type.

• HTML 5, W3C development (this is currently the Editor’s Draft 23 June 2009)
• Went Walkabout. Brought back Google Wave Google Blog, 28 May 2009
• Google Wave home page: the video is embedded here, plus news and the chance to sign up when the release comes along

Collaboration Toolchest (1)

I’ve been looking at collaboration tools for a long time and of course everyone knows the obvious ones. But I keep an eye out for new ones, and here’s an update you may find useful.

Business, for independents like me, is distributed anyway. I don’t have an enterprise to be part of any longer. But even if you work for a large company, as I used to, increasingly your business crosses the boundaries of your organisation. Planning, scheduling and managing meetings in that environment is easier than it used to be, but still not that easy.

Well, here are a couple of online services that might help.

First of all, I’ve just discovered Tungle. Tungle is an online meeting scheduler that works with most calendars you’re likely to be using such as Outlook, Mac calendars (iCal or Microsoft Entourage) or Google. I’ve only just signed up, so no experience yet, but if it lives up to the publicity it will be great.

Think of scheduling a meeting with Notes Calendaring: Notes allowed us users to see the availability of people we wanted to meet with, pick a time, and send an invitation. You do all the work up front.

Tungle has a different approach. If I want to meet with Anne, Charlie and Kira then it sends them an invitation linking them to Tungle’s site (they don’t need to sign up). It offers multiple slots based on my availability, and asks them to pick all the ones that they can make. If my calendar changes while the invitation is doing the rounds, that’s taken into account too. The last person to respond gets to pick a time from the ones still available, and schedule the meeting in my calendar; then Tungle sends everyone a confirmation.

So you’ve scheduled your meeting, your project is under way … there are a variety of meeting platforms out there, like DimDim for example. Though anything using Internet voice streaming may be ropey for more than small numbers, and a conventional phone conference may be needed alongside.

But experience strongly suggests that you can do almost everything you need with good agenda management, shared documents (ahead of the meeting) and a telephone conference. You don’t need real-time presentation, with its attendant risks, in most cases.

I’ve started using GroupSpaces for this: it puts everything under one roof instead of needing several applications. GroupSpaces isn’t a platform for actually holding meetings: it’s for sharing information and managing them. Under one roof, there’s an events calendar, a wiki, a file upload area, and a news area; and you can send group emails and manage the level of access that team members have. Any Wiki document (such as the project action list) can be promoted to being a tab on the menu bar in its own right.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the GroupSpaces calendar had Tungle capabilities?

A couple of great new tools. Thanks to Basex for alerting the community to Tungle. I can’t remember how I came across GroupSpaces!

• GroupSpaces
• Tungle
• Tungle Accelerate: Basex Editorial, 10 Jun 2009

Microsoft’s Elop: clouds and the practical vision

Knowledge@Wharton recently carried an interview with Stephen Elop, who was hired from Adobe a year ago as head of Microsoft’s Business Division. This follows on from his keynote at the recent Wharton Business Technology Conference. The video and transcript are available on

It’s worth a read, and I’m not going to precis it here. But quite a lot of the interview is about where Microsoft is going with its office products – that’s a small "o" to give it the wider sense. Elop looks after Office of course, but also the extended collaboration tools (the unified communications offering and SharePoint), ERP, CRM and more.

There are two interpenetrating strands. First: Elop makes a strong differentiation between integration and interoperability. Too much integration between their own products, of  course, and they fall foul of the anti-trust watchdogs. But he expands on the way Microsoft has published interface specifications for many of its products, and works with other standards too. Open Document Format, for example, will be readable by the new Office suite. And he gives a case study of Apple’s iPhone which, using a combination of published interface specifations and some Microsoft patents, is now a viable and registered client for Exchange email.

Second: there are, in effect, three linked approaches to Office software. Elop is clear that there will always be the long-established rich client versions, and there will be a need for them. He claims that if Microsoft removed the ten least used features of Office they would get 25 million complaints – though I wondered how they know! We know, too, about Windows Live and Office Live: the cloud-style offerings. Then there will be a third version, which I interpret as being Office Lite to run in a browser. Elop envisages this as being used for lightweight reading and editing, perhaps from within an email environment, with the full featured Office application being used for final polishing.

Microsoft is trying not to have these seen as alternatives, but as related differently-oriented versions of a single approach. It makes sense and it might just be a reason for the next upgrade (that’s from XP, for most of us!)

Some of us saw Microsoft turn the company on a sixpence (on a dime, if you’re in the US, or a 5p if you’re not old enough to remember the sixpence) when they “got” the Internet. Their migration to an understanding of “open” is taking longer but, even without Bill Gates, they may well be getting it right for the marketplace. Follow the links, and decide what you think. Comments welcome.

Oh, and the “clouds” bit? Not just about cloud-based services, but Elop is a qualified pilot. So he really does have his head in the clouds, sometimes!

• Flying High: Microsoft’s Stephen Elop Balances Future Vision with Present-day Realities. Knowledge@Wharton, 18 Mar 2009
• Future Unleashed: the Wharton Business Technology Conference, Philadelphia, Feb 2009
• Stephen Elop: Wharton Business Technology Conference, Microsoft, 27 Feb 2009 (transcript, preceded by the Dean’s welcome, and Silverlight vide0)