It has been nearly a month since Google unleashed Wave in beta form, and already there are people declaring it a failure, saying it’s “too complicated” and they “don’t see a use for it.”
About two years ago, Christian McDonald, a colleague and friend of mine, said that I needed to get on Twitter. At the time, I was the Internet editor for the Austin American-Statesman, and I think he wanted another person in his small but growing Twitter circle. I distinctly remember him showing me Twitter on his iPhone and trying to get me interested.
I thought Twitter was too complicated, and I didn’t see a use for it.
Just a few months later, I gave Twitter a try anyway, became addicted and started sending news tweets on the Statesman account. I still didn’t see the full potential, but I kept plugging away. More than a year later, there’s no question that Twitter has transformed journalism, not just how I practice it, but how millions do (see: Iran elections).
Having played around a bit on Wave, I see the same potential. If you don’t know what Wave is, here’s a pretty good explainer.
It may or may not change the world, but I do believe it will change the way we report the weather.
Let me explain what I mean with this hypothetical future Wave use that has been rolling around in my head:
Ice storms hit Austin about once every three years. The storms cripple the city because we’re used to dealing with 100-degrees and sun, not 25 degrees and frozen water. People slide all over the roads, schools all close, no one goes to work and we make little snowmen out of dirty ice … and everyone talks about it.
The next time an arctic cold front takes aim at Central Texas, I’m going to get on Wave and start a discussion about the weather. I’ll tag it and make it public so locals can find it through a search. People will be free to add themselves to the discussion on Wave.
Without getting too bogged down in the mechanics of Wave, just think of it like this: If your street is covered in ice and impassible, you can log in, post your report and see your neighbors’ reports all across the city. Wonder if the bridge you have to pass to get to work is slick? Someone might have already reported that on the Wave. Users can snap a pic of cars that have slid into telephone polls and easily upload them onto the Wave. It could come in a long, somewhat chronological list, or the reports could be embedded in a map. If I report at 10 a.m. that my street is impassable, and my neighbor gets on there 2 hours later when the street has been salted, she can edit my update to clarify it has been salted and is now open. You can respond within the thread to any of the reports coming in. If someone typed in, “Anyone know about Loop 360?” you can respond right below that to give an update, even if there have been several updates since then. All of this is done in real time – you see the reports show up on the Wave as they are typed. If this is done on the Maps gadget, you’d see pinpoints appearing on the map in real time as people gave their reports. It is crowdsourcing on steroids.
The potential here is very exciting. Add to it Wave’s ability to be embedded on external sites (such as our newspaper’s Web site), and suddenly you have a game-changing tool.
The last time we had a big storm in Austin, I used Twitter to crowdsource. It worked beautifully, but Twitter still is a bit disjointed as a medium for crowdsourcing news. Tracking tags and keywords and aggregating them in one place can be done, but it’s a bit messy. I believe Wave will take that aggregation and collaboration of news to the next level.
Weather works well in this hypothetical, but Wave could also change the way we talk about and cover a major sporting event (like maybe a national championship football game – go Horns!) or an election or a disaster. I’m ready.
Robert Quigley is the social media editor at the Austin American-Statesman and is a blogger for http://oldmedianewtricks.com and http://knightpulse.org. He has proposed a South by Southwest Interactive panel on how journalists can use Wave.