01 Jun

Waiting for the (Google) Wave

Since last Thursday I have picked up snippets of buzz around Google Wave and finished watching the demo video today (had kept it for my workout to have that pass more quickly 😉 ). I am just speechless and can’t wait for it to be publically available.

Wave is a new communication tool that is email, instant messenger, microblog, blog, collaborative writing tool, and some more all in one. It redefines the way online communication is done because you do not have to think about whether you want to write an email, send a Twitter message or start a chat. You just do it all in Wave.

The Wave team from Australia demonstrated so many features and extensions of Wave that your head spins (not in a particular order):

  • email
  • instant messenger
  • embed waves into a blog
  • wiki
  • drag and drop photos and links
  • embed videos
  • spellchecker
  • instant translator (I think that one got the biggest applause)
  • add people to an ongoing conversation
  • connect waves
  • inline commenting
  • collaborative gaming
  • linking other services, e.g. Twitter, bug tracker, and be able to either update from within Wave or these other services
  • federation: communication between different Wave installations
  • playback of the development of a Wave conversation

I think the only things that are missing are audio and video chat. I could imagine audio comments to show up like text comments or have an audio conversation be recorded while working on a document.

Now, how can some of these features be used for learning and for research? The one point that jumps to mind instantly is the possibility of collaborative writing (including using visual media). You see instantly what the others type and do not have to wait until changes are committed. That is similar to EtherPad. You can add comments to a document which can be hidden or displayed which is easier to detect them and to deal with them than in Google Docs where you write them inline with the text. Parts of a current wave can be opened as a new wave to branch conversations.

When you want to research the flow of communication, for example how people interact when writing collaboratively on a document, all you have to do is hit “playback” and the wave unfolds in front of your eyes. I already liked the “playback” feature when I discovered it in the concept mapping software CmapTools. Even though I have not used it yet beyond testing purposes, it has a ton of potential if you are involved in that kind of research because you do not need an additional program to record what has been done, but you can have all actions recorded automatically.

Another great thing about Wave is that it can run on any server and does not have to sit on a Google server. The GUI is also changeable. This is great news because Google is often accused of listening in on conversations, using it all to their own benefit. When the Wave runs on a server different from the Google one, there is no information exchange. However, Wave communications can take place across different servers so that Wave users do not necessarily have to create accounts on all Waves. They then form a federation. According to the developers, only the content that is meant for the Wave users across the systems will be sent to the federation Waves. If a private comment is made between two users of one Wave, the other server does not see that comment at all. That makes Wave attractive to companies, institutions etc. that want to use it, but do not want to put their communication and documents out there on a Google server for confidentiality reasons.

The demo made it all look so simple, but the Wave team spent two years on getting this far and they have pooled resources from other Google programming teams. Google opened the code and invited programmers to get busy on extensions and gadgets for Google Wave to make it more powerful even before the official launch. Let’s see when the Wave will hit our keyboards.

Update: Mashable has a great resource page which they call “Google Wave: A Complete Guide”. There you get all the information that is currently available.

31 May

Youtube’s unequal display rights

While watching “Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009” on YouTube, I saw two new buttons to the top right of the video. They allow you to dim the lights on the page and to open the video in a separate window.

YouTubes new features

YouTube's new features

The result is that all the noise is either turned off by the light dimmer or not shown when you open the video in a new window.

Reducing the noise

Reducing the noise

Having the lights dimmed around online videos is nothing new. A lot of services do that. On Reddit I read that this feature has been around for some months. I did check a few other videos, but did not see the features there. I got the impression, that only Google videos had these added possibilities.

Sure, there is a light bulb beneath all videos with which you can turn the entire screen either darker or completely dark. However, the video is darkened as well which the dimming feature does not do. It only blocks out the noise.

I like to dim the background because if the quality of the video is not sufficient to blow it up to fill the screen, I can still focus on the video only and not be distracted by all the other things around it.

23 Nov

Save the search results

A Twitter message by Will Richardson alerted me to the new feature on Google‘s result pages on Friday. Since then others, e.g. Philipp Lenssen, have reported about the new feature. On the official Google blog one can read:

Today we’re launching SearchWiki, a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don’t feel belong. These modifications will be shown to you every time you do the same search in the future. SearchWiki is available to signed-in Google users.

In order to see these additions, you need to be logged into your Google account. Of course, now one can say that Google will collect more user information as all the promotions, demotions, and comments on search results will be stored in the user account.

However, there are also positive implications for me. I will actually start saving the URLs to search results because now I can annotate them and manipulate the result pages so that I have the relevant information that I need.

Google SearchWiki

Google SearchWiki

03 Aug

Back to the roots forward

It’s high time that I post something on my blog. Interesting and startling things pop up almost every day and it’s difficult to keep abreast with everything. In order not to get behind too much, I better post today. 😉

Today I have read a couple of news items, e.g. via the BBC, on Google’s plans to venture into the mobile world. Although the company neither denies nor confirms the development of a phone like Apple, it’s still about to touch new ground. Why is it that big companies spread their wings into areas that have not been their domain? It’s like they want to become omnipresent. Specialization is out, generalism and “sell it all” is hot.

Google is a great example of that. They Stanford guys Sergey Brin and Larry Page who founded Google started with a search engine whose homepage was extremely uncluttered. Now the company owns a large number of non-search engine services such as email, blog, video storage, photo storage, CAD software etc. Philipp Lenssen has drawn a Map of Googleland which gives an interesting visualization of Google (excluding the very recent acquisitions of the company). Lenssen’s blog is a superb place to look for all Google-related stories. The uncluttered homepage of Google can be customized to one’s gusto. Mine looks like this at the moment (August 3, 2007, at 10:14 p.m.). The top is customized with one of the available themes. Although I am not a fan of pink, I cannot get around that color because my Google page knows my time and assumes that it’s time for a sunset. However, it’s already pitch dark outside.

iGoogle

And the latest coup seems to be the venture into the mobile phone market. Of course, one can already browse web sites via a phone or handheld, but that does not seem to be enough. Apparently, Google has shown its Gphone to manufacturers already (via Washington Post, Mobile Entertainment), but still does not comment on the story.

Google’s phone whether produced by an outside company or in-house might be a serious rival for Apple’s iPhone and a lot cheaper because reports state that Google plans to fianance it via customized ads. Will the company then listen in to one’s conversation to place the appropriate ads?

Internet service and computer companies joining the phone market might seem to be a step backwards, but actually, it’s a step into the future extending the availability of the internet and one’s personal files. Soon we might carry our entire hard drive around in a mobile device – mind you: not for working on these tiny screens constantly but to have them available and to be able to access them anytime the need might arise.

It’s good that I have not yet bought a mobile phone. I’m waiting for the big coup 😉 In the meantime, you can reach me via the following channels:

  1. email
  2. instant messenger: Skype, AIM, Yaoo, ICQ (although rarely used these days), Jabber (used it only once so far)
  3. landline and answering machine at home (mind the time zone)
  4. phone and voice mail at work (please only in emergencies)
  5. snailmail (if you jotted down my current address)
  6. relatives and friends (if they know more than you do)
  7. comments in this blog (still greatly underused)

I can’t think of a number 8. Thus, the list finishes with lucky seven channels. That should suffice for the time being.