A week or two after its first big beta release of invites, people are still chomping at the bit. (I don’t have any, sorry!) While everyone is waiting to jump on board, the real question remains: what does this mean for students? Will this completely revolutionize student communication? Or will Google Wave just be a flash in the pan? Is it better for organization, communication or both?

This post will discuss Google Wave, its shortcomings and its possible applications to student life.

State of Wave

I received my wave invite about a week ago and began tinkering around with it. As far as a communication tool, it is great for a pretty specific task currently.

This task can best be described as something in between collaborative document creation and rich chat. It allows for a threaded, real-time conversation that is pretty nifty. The formatting of the waves themselves though is a bit annoying. Heading tags lose their meaning and significance when everything is wrapped around user avatars. The formatting is not clean, but spit-polished. There are some major structural problems with waves currently.

That being said, the system is very powerful (when it works correctly). Being able to embed any sort of information is a plus. Being able to pop off ideas into new waves will be a boon to projects that grow in size over time. Google Wave is a great way to start at the highest, most abstract level of a problem and drill down into the nitty gritty details.

After “waving” (hate that) with Lesinski to plan a trip out to the next Diggnation in New York and a trip out to Vegas for CES, Chris said, “I could get used to that.” Wave definitely shows promise, especially in things like trip planning.

Student Applications

So where could this be used in student life? Better yet, where should this be used (if at all)?

To apply Google Wave, you really have to ask yourself, “In what contexts does Google Wave excel in?” (This question is dangerously close to “We have this technology, now what can we do with it?” That question inevitably results in failure.)

Google Wave does top-down planning really well. The most I’ve waved with was 3 people at once, but 10 or 20 people all contributing simultaneously and “popping off” waves would be quite the spectacle. And I’m just crazy enough to think it would work.

Let’s take the age-old example of a student government planning it school year. They come in with a set of assumptions (campaign promises) and have to break the problems down into atomic, actionable items. Here are the steps:

  1. The student government president goes in before a simultaneous wave session and enters the campaign promises into a list. Let’s say these are in typically vague, declarative polisci major speak: “community bike program”, “greener campus”, and “more campus concerts”.
  2. The night before the student government-wide waving, the president’s right-hand man (say, the vice president) comes in and changes each declarative campaign promise to headings and puts them in an active tense: “Create a community bike program”, “Pursue a greener campus” and “Organize more campus concerts”. (Google Wave ties this interaction to the vice president so that people can see he’s the one that actually knows his shit.)
  3. On the first wave day, everyone logs on and starts expanding on the ideas in real time. People have most of the benefits of face-to-face collaboration, without having to waste time listening to people who like to hear themselves speak (an epidemic in student government).
  4. Each campaign promise quickly balloons out and the entire conversation is too big for one wave. The waves get “popped off” into new, more specialized waves. Each idea is expanded up until every branch has a clear set of goals to be completed for each campaign promise.
  5. Each branch head shares the waves with their branches and comes up with a list of refined actions for the grunts of student government, the students that will one day become student government president.
  6. Significant work gets done, which is unprecedented in student government. The school prospers, world hunger is solved and cancer is cured. 

This is no doubt an idealized situation, but it’s plausible. The problem with current systems of emails, phone calls and text messages is that information tends to leak out. That one important phone number is lost and a chain of communication has to be reestablished just to figure out who might know the number. Google Wave could help in such a situation.

But if you don’t want to spend time waiting for invites, you can always get your organization on Basecamp.

Are you using Google Wave in your student organization? How is it working out?