Re-imagining Google Wave: Lessons for World-Changing Communication and Collaboration

JoeSolomon's picture

Google 'launched'  Google Wave about two weeks ago at the I/O Conference. It's continued to create quite a stir on the blogosphere, Twitter, and YouTube (2 million+ views!). Check out the 80 minute intro. video or read this TechCrunch article for an overview.  

Through Google Wave, Google seeks to change the way we communicate and collaborate online.  I think it's worth pausing, though, to reflect on the  Google Wave team's  process around  how they  communicated and collaborated with the community to get us to this point.  How might the Google Wave team have done things differently to better position themselves for world-changing success? And what are lessons we could learn for  our world-changing projects?

As it was, Google did a nearly hour and a half magic show when they wanted to share a vision for changing the way we communicate and collaborate online. What if the Google Wave team  focused on their revolution - bottled their passion and made it shorter - and empowered us with a clear message of change? Might this have made their message easier to spread and inspire more of us to support it?  Even if your project is rich and complex,  How can you simplify your message and inspire others to get involved?

Open source is just as much about process as it is about code. Building a framework for two years underground & 'down under' was not an open process. What if Google had invited their developer community to envision and contribute to their vision from the very beginning? Then they'd be inviting an entire audience to give  each other  a standing ovation! That's how you change things.  How can your organization engage your community starting from the get go? Great beginnings are where a lot of the magic happens - and your community can help!

Google seeks to engage developers all over the world to build on their platform. My hunch is Google Wave would have a much better chance at engaging this crowd if it was less about Google - and more about the community. Right now "Google" & "Wave" are inextricably tied together. Even  on the Wave Protocol site, the word "Google" shows up over 20 times. What if "Google" had chosen to drop into the branding background; something they've successfully done with their other open  initiatives  like Android & OpenSocial.    In a world where change is large part collective action - How do you pull back on your branding and invite your community to get involved in a community-centric playground?  

Imagine if  Google Wave  was called something else - something that embodied what the tool was all about. Would a name that was easier to understand increase Google Wave's chance of adoption?    "Gmail" succeeded in part because its name drew on "Email", which succeeded in part because it drew on the word "Mail".  Language is important - and new tools succeed largely because we give them names that reflect and evolve our understanding of them.  If your new idea seeks to transform the world - Can you still think of a name people can relate to and intuitively get behind?  

If I was to create  Google Wave  from scratch, I'd want ideas & input from everybody. I'd create a space for creative non-developers to share their ideas for re-inventing email and online collaboration. Even within such technical environments, it's my belief that anyone can provide important input and value. This was one of the reasons why at  Social Actions, we created a space where anyone could share ideas for the Social Actions API. I also draw inspiration from Mozilla Labs Concept Series.  How can your technical team invite ideas from the creatives & visionaries in your network?

The Google Wave team has done an awesome job showing us the potential of new kinds of content creation & conversations that can exist all across the web, be edited anywhere, and be updated everywhere. We would do well to remember, though: Trying to change the way we operate - trying to change the status quo - means trying to change the world! And changing the world is  made hugely easier (and a lot more fun!) by clearly communicating and openly collaborating with your community.  

What do you think of the role of communication and collaboration in creating world-changing projects? How do you re-imagine the world?