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

Watch this space … while you still can!

I was catching up on a backlog of alerts from MIT Technology Review. Lots of stuff about social networking, and I’m not going to discuss that here. Some of the services reviewed are the standard ones (MySpace vs Facebook, Twitter and so on) and some are smaller scale upstarts which might be the next great thing.

But this one article is worth reading, and I thought I’d flag it here rather than just tag it in MIT’s Technology Review discusses whether the level of traffic now being generated will kill the internet as we know it.

The surge in video traffic started with YouTube, but there is a lot of higher-quality user-generated video out there now and some of it gets insane numbers of hits just because it’s quirky and catches someone’s attention. And the broadcasters are in on it. In the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer is coming up for its first refresh; it’s been a wildly successful service, allowing programmes to be retrieved and re-watched over a seven day period, or retrieved and downloaded until the DRM software causes them to self destruct. ITV and Channel 4 have a slightly different model, but the key thing – in common with the US broadcast-linked services mentioned by TR – is that these are peer-to-peer applications. So, not all the bandwidth used is server-to-user; a lot of it is user-to-user, and the iPlayer T&Cs make explicit the permission for your iPlayer to be used in this way.

What’s the growth factor? TR quotes analyst Nemertes as saying 100% per year. An alternative academic estimate of 50% growth can probably be coped with by current technology trends. Watch this space … while you still can!

Internet Gridlock (MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008 )
The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web (Nemertes, Nov 2007)

MIT students first to search video lectures for spoken content

I said I wasn’t going to just link to articles. But this one from MIT’s Technology Journal contains the links I’d otherwise want to research for myself. So have a look.

In brief: there’s been a lot of research over the last thirty years in speech to text rendition, and products on the market. But MIT appears to have cracked two additional problems. First, many lecturers aren’t native English speakers – a top university is a polyglot, international community. So software that’s designed for standard English (or American) won’t do. Second, of course, in lectures there are many specialist terms not in a standard lexicon (whatever the subject).

So for MIT to offer its students a Lecture Search online tool, based on videos of lectures, is pretty remarkable. Read the story here: Searching Video Lectures (MIT Technology Journal, 26 Nov 2007).