Google Wave for Internal Communication

After my first post about Google Wave, I asked if any other internal communicators would be interested in trying Wave to see what, if any, applications it could have in our field.

And so a couple of weeks back I was joined online by BlueBallRoom’s Jenni Wheller, and Mark Detre, who’s responsible for Google’s own internal communications across the EMEA region (good to see Google eating their own dogfood here).

The three of us began by having a simple play around with the features, adding maps and pictures to the discussion. Once we’d got the hang of it, we began to think about how we might be able to use it to improve internal communciation.

Jenni asked “‘I’m not sure what it adds to the mix – i understand that it integrates various platforms that we all use but do we like keeping them seperate? do we need them all together like this? I feel like i’m skyping!’

However, by combining the live aspect of chat with the option of playback (asynchronicity) of email, it beocmes useful for dispersed teams.   In my last job, working for global charity, we had people working in pretty much every time zone. A platform that allows for people to watch the discussion before adding to it themselves, could be a real benefit to small but global organisations.

We talked about the potential for organisations to use Wave for specific communications. It would work very well for something like a live online chat with the CEO, where people could post questions in advance of the live event, and join in at the time or play back afterwards.

However, even with just three of us talking at once the conversation can be happening at several different points in the Wave, so it’s easy to miss bits of it.

Similarly, it’s quite easy to ‘zone out’ while on Wave. Tab over to an email, or answer a call, and it’s hard to remember where you left off.

Jenni, Mark and I agreed a Wave discussion, like a face-to-face meeting, would work a lot better with a chair or facilitator keeping participants on track.

You need different tools for different jobs, and this one would appear to work well for specific projects, allowing people to chat, email and share documents all in one place.  Mark said:

‘The main draw for me is that it brings everything together; for example, I do most of my drafting in Google docs, and I guess there’s also an easy way to insert those; it looks like Wave is best for businesses that do most of their work online or in the cloud’.

Few organisations are yet at that stage, though; this is a little premature for the rest of us, and would almost certainly be difficult to sell to colleagues. The potential is there, but we need resources as well as attitudes to catch up.

There’s still a long way to go before social media tools become the norm in the workplace. And even when they are, our existing channels remain useful. As I spotted when I visited Google recently, even in a high-tech environment the printed poster still remains effective.

Will it change the world? No. But will it help internal communicators? Possibly. We all have to make a call on what helps our own organisations to talk, listen and collaborate, and this is certainly a useful tool to add to the mix. Nonetheless, becoming more collaborative requires cultural change.

And that means changing our behaviours, not our tools.

If you’d like to read and join in the Internal Comms Wave, drop me a line and I’ll invite you in.

First thoughts on Google Wave

The geek community have been all a-fluster since the launch of Google’s latest big project, Google Wave, to a select group of 100,000 testers.

Google Wave is probably best described as a collaboration platform, bringing together the key functionality from email, instant messaging, shared documents and multi-media content. Google themselves say it’s ‘what email would be like if it had been invented now’.

After a long week wondering if Google Wave invites would be retro by the time I got one, mine finally arrived. At last I was one of the chosen few. My initial enthusiasm for it was tempered a bit when I realised the only other person I knew with an invite was Dave Briggs, and he wasn’t even logged on.

Things took a turn for the better, though, when I was invited into a SocITM09 Conference Wave, with Alan Coulson waving live from the SOCITM conference. This coverage really showed the potential of the platform. Alan live-blogged from the event in detail, adding links in where he could to slideshows posted online. This really helped those of us who were interested but not at the event to get a feel for what was going on (especially when combined with the live Twitter stream on the #socitim09 hastag).

At the same time, Sarah Lay and I had a bit of a chat within the broader Wave conversation (this is what Google call a ‘wavelet’).

Right now Wave is mostly a live chat type of system, like a souped-up MSN Messenger, where you can watch people type in real-time, replete with typos and corrections. But beneath the bonnet, it’s no Halfords Hero. It’s packed full of top-notch features and has bags of potential.

Things I learned:

  • Wave looks great. It does some cool stuff, which are better explained by Mashable than by me.
  • As you’d expect from a product that isn’t even in Beta, it’s a bit buggy (I’ve crashed out a few times), but the interface generally works well, is easy to understand and has some interesting features. Search isn’t integrated with proper Google Search yet, so the results are a bit iffy, but no doubt this will be fixed in time.
  • Wave is considerably more interesting once you know a handful of people with logons. Like anything else on the interwebs, unless you’ve got someone to talk to you’re just belming into the void.

Things I didn’t learn:

  • What Google Wave is actually for. For many years now I’ve had the principles of SMART objective-setting drilled into me, where one considers what one wants to achieve before working out how to get there. I’d imagine this applies as much to product development as communications strategy, and I wonder if somehow this missed the key step of identifying the problem before developing a solution.

On the other hand, a lack of clear purpose isn’t always a problem. I mean, Twitter isn’t really for anything, yet it’s clearly successful. I can’t help liking Wave. I’m a massive geek, and I love geeky things.

I’m not sure what use it has right now for council communications. Apart from anything else, you need a decent browser and good connectivity to make the most of it – we often lack both in the public sector, and in many areas of the country (particularly rural ones) our residents do too. The potential is there, but we need the technology to catch up.

Nonetheless, I can see plenty of applications for it in other areas of online life. In our ‘wavelet’, Sarah Lay and I discussed how the interface reminds us in many ways of journalists’ newswires, with rapid and quick-fire updates adding to an ongoing, fast-developing narrative produced by collective intelligence and effort.

I’ve seen this in action a few times; first, on September 11 2001, and second, on July 7 2005. On the former, working in a newsroom I watched the story unfold via successive text and picture updates (from a small number of sources like AP, Reuters and AFP). Four years later, we saw the collective intelligence of hundreds of Londoners quickly produce a summary of events on Wikipedia using a variety of sources and reports.

I can see Wave taking this to its next logical step, with collective effort producing a collaborative document including text, photo, video, maps, links, etc. It has the added bonus that it can be played back, so you can see how the narrative developed.

Now clearly you can’t sustain or develop a platform just so it can come into its own in the case of a huge but fortunately rare event. But the principle – of harnessing collective effort and intelligence to produce a single multi-media document – applies in all sorts of areas.

You could, for instance, use Wave for an online debate, adding different streams to the discussion and enhancing this with text, video, maps, and so on. This can be played back to show the evolution of the conversation.

Michele Ide-Smith posits a scenario where technology like Google Wave could really enhance citizen consultation. Online consultation on a housing development, she suggests, could begin with a short video and interactive maps, followed by discussion and debate on the issue facilitated online. Discussions can be replayed and key points responded to during or after the live event.

Eventually Google Apps and Docs will be integrated with Wave, giving it bags more potential (especially so for organisations that move to cloud computing).

Will it replace email? Maybe. Outside of work, where I drown in the stuff, I use email less and less, increasingly favouring things like Twitter, Facebook and IM, so a product which brings together the best of all of these could be just the thing we need.

I’m still thinking about what, if anything, Wave could do for us internal communicators specifically. There’s now a handful of us with Wave accounts, so I’m hoping to organise an Internal Comms Wave later this week to check out the features and think about how it can enhance our own work. If you’re on Wave and you’re interested in taking part, drop me a line or leave me a comment and I’ll invite you in.

One final thing: I can’t log on to Google Wave without getting the Pixies’ Wave of Mutilation as an earworm. I suspect this is just me. Is it?