Disclosure: Wave was created by Google, a competitor of Microsoft, an Edelman client.
The human understanding of communication has always been send-receive, speak-listen, post-read. At its most fundamental nature, this back-and-forth protocol is what we have lived with since a primitive era. Leave a message on the cave wall for someone else to come and find. Write a letter, send it off by ship and wait weeks for the answer. Type out an e-mail and press send; see an unopened item in the inbox, open, read, reply, repeat.
Our newest technologies and platforms, as advanced as they have become in terms of the speed of communication, still follow this pattern. While nearly instantaneous from a reaction standpoint, social media is still generally anchored by the history that forces us to look at communicating as the gerund that it is. Even Twitter, the shiniest among the digital channels of communication — and each of its footprints on global events — is stuck on a timeline, and still depends on an action. Each Tweet is just a passing thought until actually tweeted, and not until the moment someone presses update can those 140 characters actually be considered communication.
Ultimately, conversation is the process, not a tangible result. Shots heard ‘round the world — whether starting revolutions in Massachusetts or winning pennants in Manhattan — have always needed to be shot (or pitched) to be heard.
Each of the communication tools that we have at hand is stuck to its relative verb. Tweeting, Tumbling, Blogging, IMing, E-Mailing, Writing, Speaking. Listening, while attempting to do any of the former, results in bad listening and bad communication; a direct product of the linear conversation model. Clarity comes from both actions, done in harmony and in order.
At this point in our shared human history, enter Google’s newborn collaboration platform Wave. Something is fundamentally different in this new arena of communication: There is no verb to describe what a user does with the application (“Waving” will not be acceptable, at least by this author). That’s a bigger deal than it may seem.
We were challenged from the first minutes of the hour-long introduction about Wave to believe that this sandbox we see before us is the product of a new approach to e-mail and IM in the 21st century. This is as much a limitation as an opportunity: If we choose to use Wave in this manner, we will quickly find that it is trying too hard to overmatch its predecessors in the digital communication space.
A great illustration of this point can be found in a meme-worthy video that appeared throughout the blog world in mid-September and has now amassed close to 600,000 views on YouTube. Referred to as Google Wave Cinema, the video (not embedded here because the language is decently strong) featured a fast-moving, colorful scene from the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction re-imagined within the application. As the dialogue increases in speed and degree, the downward movement of the action reached an engaging, dynamic level with Wave’s ability to quickly adjust text in the thread, embed videos and add images.
As fun as the clip was to watch, if Google Wave continues to be looked at from this perspective — basically a multimedia rich IM, but IM all the while — it will quickly grow old.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the application, though. Instead of the dynamic movement of one scene in a movie, how could this tool factor in to the efforts of an entire community trying to collaborate and rebuild a classic? On the other end of the online galaxy, this effort is already happening:
The premise of Star Wars Uncut was original, yet simple and straightforward. Divide the first Star Wars into hundreds of 15 second clips and then invite fans to pick their favorite scenes to recreate a crowdsourced version of the science-fiction standard. It’s a product that will be unique when it is complete, but it may be confined slightly by the traditional communications model of send-and-receive protocol. A group of fans may all want the same scene, but the process to claim a scene, create the version, submit and then add it to the final version is ultimately exclusive in some way.
Rethink this process in Google Wave: if each scene was given a blip in the wave, not only would it have been a nifty way to organize the editorial assignments, multiple people could have uploaded different creations of each scene. If multiple versions of each scene existed, a participant would be able to choose their own roadmap through the movie. The new product that each user creates does not rely on the timestamp in the corner, but the depth of each separate element of the wave. The more the wave itself grows, the more enriched the experience comes for every participant.
This occurrence could not happen in any back-and-forth communication. In this hypothetical project, the important factor isn’t the progression of the entire wave, but the lateral movement from left-to-right of each portion of it. Add it all together, and you’ve put conversation on a new axis — and one that is foreign to our custom of communication.
The value of Google Wave is not the tricks, gadgets, embedding and voting. These are all very cool, and all help create some innovative threads of conversation, but it may just be advanced versions of what we have. The reality is acknowledging that there are two ways to look at the discussion in this live forum. The first is the vertical order in which it happened, a mechanism that does not separate Wave from similar tools like IM and e-mail, following the pattern by which we have been programmed to communicate for eons. The second way is to recognize that each blip in time is worth more than its place in the lateral conversation. Each can be spread sideways, like the roots of a tree, to solidify and nurture the whole discussion into something more than a stream of speeding thoughts.
Take one moment and ponder a conversation like this; think how much deeper we can go when we can use and develop every last root to cement our shared foundation of communication.