Google Wave: Just another ripple or science communication tsunami? (Science Online London 2009)

Cameron Neylon, Chris Thorpe, Ian Mulvany

Google Wave is a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web that will be released later this year. For this session we plan a live demo of the prerelease version of Google Wave to show off the potential for scientists.

What can you do with a wave? Make robots, embed into blog, build gadgets. Robots (server side) can inspect data within a wave, then go and do something about it and change the content within a wave. For the geeks, it’s powered by webhooks. You can put waves anywhere, into any HTML file. Changes are immediately propogated to every embedded wave. Therefore, if you make a comment on a waved blog, that comment appears wherever people have requested it. It makes flame wars almost immediate 🙂

Gadgets (client side) extend the functionality of waves, and are xml-based and store their data within a Wave. Changes can be replayed and are stored on a per-user/wavelet basis.

Cameron then live-demoed a wave by writing something “like an email” and showed how it propogated to other users. (Ian said “o noes! i iz in ur wave editing ur text”. Highly amusing. But they’re just showing versioned instant messaging, right now. cool, but I would like to see more.) He can invoke the Guardian robot with “?guardian” and the search results are put right back into the wave. There’s also a robot for chemspider, and another for producing Latex figures (Watexy).

They also showed Igor, a robot which helps retrieve citations. Also Graphy which, as the name suggests, produces basic graphs from text that look suspiciously like what you might want an SBML pathway to look like!

The entire Google Wave system is going to be open-sourced. Most of the client architecture is HTML 5 and Javascript. Google had a robot (not public) that would translate into another language as you typed – supposedly quite resource hungy?

What would make people use it who aren’t geeks? At the moment, it is difficult to get used to using the interface. Also, it doesn’t yet integrate with email as we know it. However, Cameron Neylon says that it’s easier than it looks to use, so once they sort the interface it should become popular.

IM: If Google wave is as easy to install by institutions as a wiki setup, then it might work and really help collaborations and sharing. Even more so if Wave successfully integrates email.

More short notes about the demo and discussion:

  • CN: I have the feeling it will be very very good at taking collaborative note taking during talks.
  • People can edit each other’s comments, and there is versioning so you can see how things have changed.
  • Wave is much more efficient in terms of resources – not a whole series of gets, but instead a few puts (if I understand this correctly).
  • One problem: Google Wave can’t be used offline. Is there any way to get some limited functionality offline?

Phil Lord suggested that google wave might be good for collaborative ontology development. (I agree!)

FriendFeed Discussion

Please note that this post is merely my notes on the presentation. They are not guaranteed to be correct, and unless explicitly stated are not my opinions. They do not reflect the opinions of my employers. Any errors you can happily assume to be mine and no-one else’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

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