Over the course of the last few weeks there was a lot of noise about Google Wave and its potential to transform everything from newspapers to novel writing. The Wave approach, which consists of both a tool and a underlying protocol, has be discussed as being the solution that will unite online communication and therefore revolutionize the web at the same time as it has been described as being complicated and not very useful.
I wrote an overview about the tool and the Wave protocol earlier on this blog and promised to take a look at its possible implications for eParticipation. Luckily Tim Bonnemann started a discussion on how to use Google Wave for eParticipation using the tool itself as soon at it was available. If you have a Wave account you can be view it here. In this article I will try to give the major points which have been made in that discussion. All the ideas presented in this text have been developed collaboratively by the 59 people have signed into this Wave until now. Thanks to all the contributors and especially Tim for starting the Wave!
From a usability standpoint two things have to be pointed out: Google Wave is technically still in a preview phase and is having errors and problems quite frequently at the time. Secondly the implementation of the Wave Protocol presented by Google is offering a lot of features in a rather crowded interface which needs to be learned and get used to by new users. However this might change over time.
Besides these general problems several use cases for the tool have risen from the discussion. These points are however mainly ideas at the time and have to be tested in practice.
- Small-group dialogues
- Facilitated chat
- Team-based, game-like deliberations
- “Wave as a debate host” (see this blog post on ReadWriteWeb)
- To support group process, participant interaction (e.g. by detecting mood… could jump in if mood deteriorates)
- Real-time translation (this could be really useful in places like Europe. 27 EU countries and almost as many different languages)
- Collaborative editing/commenting of legislative texts
- Rearranging discussions into reports that policy-makers can understand.
- Collectively describing a problem or an issue.
Alongside these ideas two concrete example of Google Wave in policy discussions have been posted: One on the debate on Health Care reform in the United States and one on a discussion on a legislative text. Both examples are interesting but illustrate the usability problems mentioned above. The discussions are hard to follow and get very “noisy” even with a rather small number of participants.
Several participants in the Wave on eParticipation brought up the issue of intellectual property. Right now Google hosts all the content on Wave and even though the company states that they do not claim any ownership this situation might be problematic when the tool is used for public participation in political processes. In the long run however any entity (governments, NGOs, etc.) can host their own instances of Wave independent from Google, which might be more comfortable for the participants and the hosts of the discussion.
At this point Wave is an invite only service. This fact of course is a showstopper for public participation processes but will change in the next few months. I have a few invites left. So if you need one just post the email address you need it to in a comment or contact me via email.
In summary Google Wave is still in a very early stage and is ridden with problems and limitations. It does not seem to be ready for wide use by non-technical minded people and therefore for public participation processes. On the other hand it could be very useful in supporting these processes. Moderators could use it to coordinate and to produce summaries of discussions. Or teams of translators could work in Wave in a multi-lingual setting.
It is unclear how Wave will develop over the next few months and how the adaption will be when it is opened up to all users and independent instances of the Wave protocol show up on the net. Therefore the points made here can only be seen as hints to what Wave might mean for eParticipation.