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Google Wave for Meeting Professionals

By Gina Trapani

Google engineers bill Wave as "what e-mail would look like if it were invented today." Don’t overlook this new collaboration tool, as it can help meeting and event professionals and attendees document and discuss meetings in real-time on the Web. Instead of sending locked-in messages from one e-mail box to the other the way we send postal mail, Wave offers a single, hosted conversation that everyone contributes to. Using Wave for group communication means no more endless e-mail back-and-forth, useless CCs or unnecessary reply-to-alls fragmenting a conversation into bits and pieces scattered into multiple inboxes.

In Wave, you create lowercase waves: documents in which participants can edit and chat at the same time, their cursors moving live before your eyes. Even though it’s still in invitation-only preview, meeting professionals are already using Wave to collaborate on notes, create conference backchannels and broadcast live from events.

Introducing Wave
Once you log into Wave, you’ll notice it looks very much like your e-mail program: you have an inbox, contacts and a list of new waves you’ve received. Click on a wave in your inbox to view, edit or reply to it.

A wave consists of individual messages called "blips." Given full access to a wave, its participants can edit the contents of each other’s blips, add new blips below existing ones and even add a blip inside an existing blip, to address a specific bit of text inline. This feature, inline replies, solves one of the biggest problems with e-mail: the difficulty in responding to individual points or questions in the body of a message.

Wave’s purpose is to help groups grow documents out of conversations in a single place. In a wave, participants can both chat as well as co-edit each other’s blips. This happens in real-time. In a wave where several people are working, you can see each participant’s different-colored cursor move as they type, keystroke-by-keystroke, live. This makes Wave the perfect place to document and discuss events as they happen.

Waving Meeting Notes
Collaborative meeting notes are one of the most obvious uses of Wave. With several people in a room discussing a predetermined agenda, everyone collaborating on notes in a single place is more efficient than each person taking notes individually and duplicating work.

Indiana University’s principle multimedia analyst Manjit Trehan says collaborating on meeting notes is the most common use of Wave for himself and his colleagues. Trehan’s meetings usually have about 10 attendees; four or five take notes in Wave.

"What I learned after a few meetings [of taking notes in Wave] is that it is best to enter one agenda item per blip. This allows a separate thread to progress below each item," Trehan said.

Instead of everyone editing a single note’s blip, Trehan’s co-workers take advantage of Wave’s ability to host inline conversations about individual points with individual blips.

"Say we are meeting about ordering some hardware, and there are three open items to be discussed: vendor selection, installation schedule and deployment schedule. Each of these would end up in a separate blip," Trehan explained.

Pamela Fox, a Google Wave API developer advocate, put together a public meeting notes template you can use to get started trying out Wave for collaborating on notes. Log into Wave, and visit http://goo.gl/cxsW (URL shortened for readability) to see the template. From the wave’s timestamp drop-down on the top right, choose "Copy to new wave" to make an editable copy, where you can enter your meeting’s name and agenda as well as add participants.

Wave as Conference Backchannel
Wave doesn’t just work well in small, private meetings. Two key features make Wave a useful place for attendees to create publicly accessible forums on the fly: the ability to tag waves and make them public.

Tech-savvy conference organizers already publicize a unique tag for their attendees to use when they post event status updates to Twitter or photos to Flickr. Attendees can use that same tag in Wave to create and add to event-specific discussions, too.

For example, at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York in November, the public, agreed-upon conference tag was w2e. I gave a keynote presentation called "Making Sense of Google Wave," and invited attendees to wave about it using that tag. Before I took the stage, I started a public wave and tagged it w2e so that anyone who searched with:public tag:w2e in Wave could discuss my keynote or any other session they attended.

At a conference with several tracks, each session can have its own wave, which attendees can use as a backchannel to chat and take notes about the presentation as it happens. Hosting your backchannel in Wave has two main advantages over traditional group chat or Twitter. First, Wave supports richer content. Participants can easily add images, links, documents, video clips, maps and Yes/No/Maybe polls to the wave to share with other attendees. Second, unlike traditional chat or a Twitter search for a hashtag, both of which are linear, sequential updates that flow down a page in one direction, Wave can support hierarchical discussions. Attendees can easily chat about a point made three minutes ago in its own inline thread, without disturbing the rest of the wave—the flow of the conversation.

Wave for Broadcasting at Live Events
Not only do public waves make it easy for conference attendees to discuss an event as it happens, they make your event more accessible to anyone who is not on site, enabling global reach and participation. 

The first high-profile use of Wave this way was at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen in December. During the conference, a global youth panel virtually debated climate change issues in Wave. Organized by Debatewise.org, the panel was made up of more than 1,000 young people ranging in age from 15 to 25 years old, located in 140 countries, talking over the events as they happened at COP15.

"This type of panel would have been impossible without the Internet, in fact it’s only just become feasible thanks to Google’s revolutionary collaboration software Wave," said Debatewise Founder David Crane.

He says that Wave’s real-time typing feature was useful for the quickly moving discussion because a panelist could start thinking about a statement or answering a question before it was even fully typed.

To see the public debate waves that happened during COP15 for yourself, in Wave search for with:public global youth panel debate.

Wave’s Current Drawbacks
Wave is a useful tool, but at this early stage it’s not yet ready for primetime. Wave adoption is low because it is still so new, and in invitation-only preview. Until Google makes Wave public, it’s very likely your co-workers and event attendees won’t have Wave accounts. In fact, they may not have even heard of Wave. The Wave preview can be unstable and crash, especially when you open lengthy, active waves. Finally, the Wave preview is still missing important features, such as the ability to remove a participant from a wave. (Google promises this functionality is forthcoming.)

Until Wave adoption ramps up and the product itself is more evolved and stable, meeting and event waving will most likely be limited to a small number of tech-savvy early adopters.

However, even though Wave hasn’t seen mainstream adoption yet, it’s already paving the way to a whole new way meeting professionals and attendees can discuss and document events in real-time on the Web. One+

GINA TRAPANI is author of The Complete Guide to Google Wave, which is freely available to read at http://completewaveguide.com.

Invitation Only
Google Wave is currently in preview stage, which means you need an invitation to create an account and that it suffers from minor quirks and instability. Early adopters who want to test Wave can visit wave.google.com to request an invitation. Alternately, check with someone you know who already uses Wave and ask for an invite as current Wave users get invitations to share with co-workers and friends.