My heart sank a little bit when I read on Google’s official blog that Google Wave will be put out to digital pasture at the end of the year. It sank not because “I ‘heart’ Google,” but rather because an outstanding collaboration platform will go away. The problems with the product and launch were numerous, but for me, using Google Wave was like looking at what COULD be possible in business and education. All we would have to do is be able to learn, unlearn and relearn the fundamental elements of work.
Google Wave was, in stories of demise across the web, often maligned as an e-mail killer. It wasn’t an e-mail killer nor was it supposed to be. It was, as Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President, Operations & Google Fellow wrote in the Google post, a “a web app for real time communication and collaboration, it set a high bar for what was possible in a web browser.”
Google Wave behaved slowly, had no decent mobile device support and was launched without any instructions on how to use it. Yes, Google said “here it is – play!”
What Wave did do is allow collaboration by many people at the same time on the same data elements. My best Wave project was working with others to develop video, sounds effects, a script and my voice over for a conference video. We leveraged its ability for us to drag, share and interact with the elements of a document, including images, videos, line art, and literally anything else that can help a group can make a better, faster more amazing process, service or product.
Online gamers, especially when working collaboratively, have needed to learn, unlearn and relearn to advance. Many marketing analysts and database professionals have also learned that the rules can change in the middle of a project. As in the movie The Matrix, “Some of these rules can be bent. Others can be broken.”
The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn, both as an individual and within a collaborative team is the Holy Grail of the Knowledge Economy. This is where innovation will find a fast-track. Whoever can reach the higher productivity level first will win.
Economist and futurist Alvin Toffler has been quoted saying that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Which side of this new illiteracy do you want to be on?
Google may well shutter their first mass-collaboration experiment at the end of the year. With the learnings from Wave, and especially how users engaged with the product, I trust we will see the next generation appear in a new product. It may even appear as part of the Google docs suite. I believe it will be mobile-enabled and more suitable to government, education, and offices alike. The success of the new product may well hinge on the growing part of the population who decides to collaboratively leverage the skills of all their team members. This would serve non-profits, corporations and new education paradigms (that kids have already been using for about ten years).
Or in other words, to paraphrase Monty Python’s Spamalot, “It’s not quite dead yet.”