Google Wave – don’t forget the scientists

Google Wave is a new tool to communicate online and collaborate and was announced today at the Google I/O conference. Google Wave is not only a product, but also an open protocol that anyone can use to build his own wave server.

Google Wave is already very interesting by itself, but can also be extended further:

  • by robots that automate common tasks and run on the server, and
  • by gadgets that allow new ways of user interactions and run on the client.

This sounds all rather geeky, but why should a scientist care about Google Wave? Part of the job of every scientist is to communicate and collaborate, and email is by far the most widely used tool to do that. Email has many shortcomings, some of which can be overcome by blogs, wikis, and a constantly growing number of other Web 2.0 tools from Twitter to FriendFeed. But Google Wave goes one step further. The basic idea of a wave is a document (and this can be everything from text to pictures) combined with the discussion about that document, and that is a very natural design for many scientific communications.

Google Wave will be publicly available later this year. I hope that by that time it will also have the first extensions designed specifically for scientists, e.g. for

  • references with embedded metadata and discussions about these references
  • molecular structures“: and other scientific data types
  • scientific manuscripts in progress (Google Wave has nice tools for collaborative document editing)
  • lab notebooks (again because of the wiki-like editing features)

Google Wave could turn into serious competition for the The Life Scientists Room at FriendFeed. And it is a great topic to discuss further at Science Foo Camp 2009.

Update 5/29/09: You can now watch the Google I/O presentation. And Ricardo Vidal also blogged about Google Wave from a scientist perspective (Using the (Google) Wave to surf the streams).

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13 Responses to Google Wave – don’t forget the scientists

  1. Darren Saunders says:

    Hmm, looks really interesting. We’re currently toying/struggling with how to go about setting up a “wiki” type site for our lab where we can post relevant papers/data etc for discussion. Basically, we’re trying to avoid the inevitable problems that arise from trying to do such things via clunky email chains.
    having looked at most of the sites out there, we’re still to find one that will do what we want, maybe Wave will be the answer?

  2. Ian Mulvany says:

    Hey Martin, I think we should build those extensions, and provide support for them in Nature Network, are you going to SciFoo this year? I’ll miss it as my wedding is on the same date! It would be great to get an open collaboration together for building these kinds of extensions, There are smatterings of code out there in a variety of languages, I’m sure we could pull a group of people together who could do this before public launch of wave.

  3. Martin Fenner says:

    Darren, email chains – where at some point you loose track of who said what when – are one of the reasons why email is sometimes the wrong tool. I’m the wrong person to ask about wikis for lab data, but for papers you could look at the reference managers with social features.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    Ian, yes I will be going to SciFoo. I would love to work on scientific extensions for Google Wave and therefore have signed up for the developer program. Java and Python are unfortunately the preferred languages. I prefer Ruby, but I’m open for everything.
    Funny that there seem to be a few people here on Nature Network getting married this summer. Did I see this right that you are getting married in Germany?

  5. Cath Ennis says:

    Gmail is already a decent solution to the dreaded email chain, but this looks like a whole new level of Googly coolness.

  6. Linda Lin says:

    Can’t wait, hopefully the departments here will lap it up..if only to reduce the amount of spam from them I get in my inbox…

  7. Ian Mulvany says:

    Mi Martin, I am, in the Eifel region to a Koln girl!! In a castle!!!!

  8. Bob O'Hara says:

    Hmm. Is Google Waves the new MT4?

  9. Martin Fenner says:

    Bob, I was thinking the same thing. MT4 = Movable Type blogging software. Nature Network will use MT4 later this year, and we were promised that it will satisfy all wishes of us Nature Network bloggers.

  10. Martin Fenner says:

    Ian, congratulations in advance!
    Linda, spam was mentioned only briefly in the presentation about Google Wave. But I’m sure that clever people will find ways to spam the service.

  11. Heather Etchevers says:

    Darren, by the way, while waiting for Google’s promises to bear fruit, it’s very straightforward to set up a lab wiki at “OpenWetWare”: And they have a sort of automatic set-up-a-lab-notebook system which is pretty effective as well. On the other hand, I can’t convince a single person in my group to use the page except myself, even though the markup is pretty easy – they all need WYSIWYG to be motivated, and a pushier boss.
    Martin, thank you for “_The basic idea of a wave is a document (and this can be everything from text to pictures) combined with the discussion about that document_” since I didn’t want to sit through the whole promotional video. It does sound good, if it is easy for the non-programmer to participate.

  12. Martin Fenner says:

    I find that technology can greatly simplify our scientific life. But the social aspect of it, i.e. convince your colleagues to use these technologies, is often the harder part that should never be underestimated. There is an argument that technologies that are easy and fun to use might have it easier, but I doubt that. I’ve started a Wiki in our department a few weeks ago (not OpenWetWare, as it is not a lab notebook), and it is very hard to promote. I hope that integrating the topics of the Wiki with our departmental seminar makes a diference.

  13. Darren Saunders says:

    Thanks Heather, I’ll check it out. I suspect we’ll have the same problem here with getting people to actually use it effectively.