A Google Wave Explanation for Mom


To those who don’t know what Google Wave is, don’t think you’re alone. Google put out both an 80 minute video and an 8 minute video to try to explain it, and there still seems to be plenty of confusion to go around. Here’s my attempt to explain Google Wave in a way that anyone (Mom included) can understand, by highlighting what’s familiar and what’s unique to this new system.

Let’s start with something familiar, email. Email is a fairly simple thing to picture as if it didn’t exist on computers. It’s just like sending a letter. You can stuff things inside the envelope (attachments) or add pictures and make things bold/italic. You can write in several colors, and when you click send there’s no getting your letter back. As your correspondent writes, you can’t see anything in their letter until they send it back to you. When you get it back, there’s usually a snippet of your original message as well as the response. While this is fine for one or two people conversations, things start to get chaotic beyond that (see here).

Aside from links, which don’t fit too well into the letter paradigm, it’s all pretty easy to picture.

At it’s most basic, a wave isn’t tough to understand either. Instead of picturing a letter though, imagine a wall-sized whiteboard, and instead of sending a piece of paper to others, you invite people into the room where your whiteboard is. You (or anyone else) can start the message by writing something on the whiteboard. Once the conversation has started, anyone can write anything at any time (even at the same time), and since you’re all in the same room, you can see everyone’s writing as they do it. You can still write with different color pens, in different sizes, with italics or underlines. You can tape up pictures, maps, and even crosswords to the wall which, once posted, anyone can see and play with.

So far, it’s not too tough to picture. The main difference between a wave and email is that email uses multiple copies of a message, while a wave invites everyone to the same single whiteboard (that part is important). What you do, in terms of typing and putting pictures on them, is pretty similar.

Now for the twists unique to waves/whiteboards.

Twist 1

If you’re all in the same room at the same whiteboard (using dry erase markers), that means everyone in the room has the power to erase, rewrite, and tinker with what other people wrote. This could be done by redrawing graphs, reordering lists, rewriting paragraphs, or replacing taped up crosswords with taped up Sudoku puzzles. If it sounds like Wikipedia, that’s because it is.

HOWEVER, things written earlier will ABSOLUTELY NOT be lost, even though the latest version may not show earlier writings. The reason? Well, think of it as if the whiteboard has been filmed during the whole conversation. At any point in time, you can go back to the tape and see what was changed on the board at any point in the past. Google has built in just such a tool to Google Wave, complete with a play button and slider so you can jump to any previous version of the whiteboard.

Twist 2

In addition to having your friends writing on the whiteboard with you, you can have robots writing alongside you as well (I picture a shiny gold C3PO from Star Wars waiting behind me in case I need him). Google has built a couple of these robots already. For example, Rosy (a la the Rosetta Stone) is a robot that looks at whatever you write on the wall and writes the same thing just underneath it in a different language. That way, you can communicate with anyone who might not speak your language. Another example is Stocky, who we can stand in the corner of the room and write the most up to date price of any stock we want.

Twist 3

The third twist behind a wave is that all your friends don’t have to be in the room at once for it to work. If you need a bathroom break, or want to check out what’s going on in the whiteboard room across the hall, you can do that without any problem. When you come back, everything will still be up on the wall, and anything that’s changed will be briefly highlighted so you can quickly see what’s different.

Twist 4

The final twist (the coolest part from my perspective) is one that doesn’t fit 100% into the whiteboard paradigm, so I’ll talk in terms of technology. The twist is that though you usually look at waves through Google Wave (or Outlook 2011, or whatever), you can put the actual wave you’re working on anywhere on the web, such as in a blog post. Then, you can get input from people anywhere on the web, even if they don’t usually use waves. By contrast, the best you can do with email is post a copy on the Internet, where anything people comment about it stays on that website. I’ll go into why I think this connection is has great potential later, but for now know it’s enough to know that it’s doable.

So, in layman’s terms, that is Google Wave. Not so different from email, but there are a couple of twists that do make it unique. Let me know if you have any questions or complaints in the comments.

Oh, and I love you Mom. 🙂


2 Responses to “A Google Wave Explanation for Mom”

  1. That was a very nice explanation. I liked it very much so I took the liberty of sharing your blog entry on my facebook 🙂

  1. 1 A Slow Wave « Where Is My Mind?

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