May 30, 2009 8

Google Wave could fix collaborative editing and mail at the same time

By in Collaboration, Reading, Reference management, Search, Social Media, Software, Web 2.0, Writing

The general agreement is that mail is broken. We all use it but kind of hate it too. Well, it seems that Google came up with a very good alternative (ambitious, and technically impressive): Google Wave.

A long video of Wave’s capabilities here.

It’s very long at 1:20hrs, but worth it. It’s peppered with random bouts of applause, something I’ve never seen in a scientific/technical presentation before. About minute 1:04, Lars Rasmussen presents real-time translation and he gets about a minute of standing ovation.

Why is this important for academics? Looks like sending a word document back and forth with version numbers in the file name is no fun. And setting a VCS with a bunch of .tex files plus figures is not much better (mainly because doing diffs on LaTeX files is pretty horrible). One could always convince a collaborator to use Google Docs, but then you have no way to use a proper reference manager, figures are a mess, etc. In short, scientific paper collaboration is not really pleasant right now.

In fact, it might be more appealing than desktop equivalents (say MS word) to write papers with collaborators, and better than a long thread of mails to simply organize a dinner out. So I won’t be surprised if many people jump on this as soon as it’s out. Wave is solving so many problems so well that it’ll be a rotund success. Here’s the interface:

The basically new thing is that you can see your collaborator typing away in real time, maybe in different parts of your manuscript. Although similar things have been around for a while (see for example etherpad), the way Wave integrates with other google offerings such as chat/email –may well be enough to gain adoption.

Wave supports images, and more editing features in general than etherpad.

One thing we get for free is version control: you can even move a slider to see how changes happened in your document. It’s pretty spectacular.

While Wave won’t be out for a while, there are developer accounts where one can sign up and get a preview.

Surprising: It’s open source, both client and server (!). I have no idea how they plan to disentangle the server side from the rest of Google’s infrastructure… Unless they ask you to reproduce all of part of it on your server – which is unlikely- I’m not sure how you could get this thing running.

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8 Responses to “Google Wave could fix collaborative editing and mail at the same time”

  1. NelsNo Gravatar says:

    Email is broken? I love Gmail! I don’t know what I’d do without email and feel like I’m often at my most productive on it. I didn’t know it was considered a bad thing. In fact, I still know several people who don’t use it and still prefer the phone. I’ll try this out, but plain ole Gmail has been doing wonders for me for years. Guess I’ve been missing something?

  2. VTAMethodmanNo Gravatar says:

    I’m working with a buddy at Cambridge on a new book and this could completely revolutionize the way we interact. I love the idea of actually seeing my partner type, combine that with a good skype connection and I won’t have to travel for work every again.

    I could also see applications for tutors (such as myself) who sometimes need to communicate complex ideas but don’t want to pay for the current programs on the market.

  3. celui says:

    The academic community needs right now programmers for Google Wave. We need server-side plugin to transform any teχ math formulas into pretty-printing formulas.

    We also need a client-side teχ editing (coloration, parenthesis matching,…) plugin.

    And we need them right now, so that when Wave will be launched the community can immediately see the benefits of it and not say “we cannot do that or that”.

  4. joseNo Gravatar says:

    @celui: I think Dario would be the right person to take up this job. He’s a TeX expert.

  5. [...] [dismiss] Looks like the Connoctea team is on the right track. Instead of trying to bolt something to insert references into word, they are trying to go straight to wave. [...]

  6. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Hi.
    I developed a robot for google wave that renders LaTeX snippets as you type. It’s called LaTeXy, and you can see a preview here:
    http://wave-samples-gallery.appspot.com/about_app?app_id=58014

    there’s also a video to see it in action:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GIUXzKt2SQ

    use the installer (or add kevinalle@appspot.com to a wave) and start typing latex! (liek $$x^y$$)

  7. PeterNo Gravatar says:

    I am actually having loads of trouble with hot mail and thinking of using my G mail as the preferred mail account. Does anybody else experience trouble with hot mail account and breakdowns? I will take a peep at Google wave. This might be the answer.

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