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Surfing the Google Wave

Original image courtesy of Squidoo.com... with apologies We’ve spent a week getting to know Google Wave using Chrome along with 100,000 of our closest friends. We wanted to give you a status report. Hype aside, Google Wave is an incredible tool when used for the right purpose. If you’ve been asleep or hiding under a rock for the past two weeks and missed the party, here’s a quick summary of Google’s latest invention. It’s a bird, it’s a plane… actually it’s a collaboration and communications platform that brings the full richness of Web 2.0 to your desktop. Some have suggested that it’s what email would look like if it were invented today. Our discussion focuses on the web-based Wave client, but Google Wave also is an open source development toolkit, and we’ll get to that one day soon.

Much has been written about Google Wave’s capabilities, and we won’t repeat that here. Instead, we want to address Google Wave’s potential and what we see as some of the present shortcomings of the product. We fully appreciate that this is a preview, and many of our concerns may yet be addressed before Google Wave becomes available to the general public. We can’t help chuckling at the realization that, in less than 30 years, we’ve now come full circle in data processing. What began as mainframe computing evolved into personal computing. And now Google Wave brings us much closer to being back where we started except for a state-of-the-art user interface and a new name: Cloud Computing. If IBM had addressed the user interface issues with mainframe computing, they probably never would have lost their market in the first place.

The screenshot above really can’t do justice to the richness of the client interface because you truly need a monitor as wide as your desk to get the most out of Google Wave. No, you won’t be using this on your cellphone or PDA… at least not well. For openers, Google Wave provides real-time collaboration so you actually see folks typing into various message threads (called waves) in the Land of Google. When you create a new wave, you "invite" other people in your Contacts to the wave. This puts the wave at the top of their Inbox in bold-faced type, akin to what Gmail would do with an incoming email.

There’s another frame to the right of your Inbox which actually displays the complete wave that you have selected so you’re never really jumping back and forth between selecting waves and reading them. What takes a bit of getting used to is the fact that both your Inbox and the wave you are currently reading may be changing every second with input from literally dozens of your associates or strangers if the wave you’re reading happened to be designated as public.

There’s one other dramatic difference in waves and threads of email messages. Other folks can change your stuff. As a collaboration tool with close associates, this might be desirable. With public waves, it would be a nightmare in the real world. And we don’t consider the 100,000 Google Wave previewers the real world. They are for the most part well-behaved probably out of fear that they’d be booted out if they behaved badly. That isn’t the real world as we all know. And the current Google Wave design would let a single creep destroy virtually every public wave in minutes using bots and malicious changes to documents. As presently designed, there would be little recourse other than replaying what your wave used to look like. You really can’t put Humpty back together again as some have already discovered.

Richard Nixon learned the hard way that tape recorders can be a blessing and a curse. Much has been made of the capability Google Wave offers to replay a wave so that you can playback the development of a thread of messages and see who added or deleted what and when. Google has touted the fact that everything is preserved. Well, not quite. First, there’s no capability at least presently to scroll back to a certain place in the timeline and recreate a new wave up to there. The most you can retrieve is a single posting. Second, anybody with access to the wave can use this timeline feature so wave restoration wouldn’t necessarily be desirable unless it were restricted to the original author of the wave. And, third, at least at Google someone knows how to cheat the system and delete stuff from the timeline. We only discovered this in reviewing the first public porn wave which started out prim and proper enough but quickly gathered steam when someone posted a collection of NSFW (or anywhere else) photos from their favorite collection. Within a few minutes, the postings quietly disappeared. Being the careful reviewer that we are, we immediately reached for the Playback button to check the history of the wave. Sure enough, the raunchy photos were still there. But, by the next morning, they had completely vanished from the chronology. So much for the official stance that nothing ever disappears. The real disappointment with the replay function is the lack of any capability to restore an entire wave. Because only individual messages (known as blips) can be recovered, this would prove to be next to worthless in a complex wave with hundreds of postings.

That brings us to the issue of whether public waves really make sense given the world in which we live. The good news is it works much better than IRC because of the richness of the content with attachments and hyperlinks. But, at least for public waves, the ability to edit someone else’s stuff would have to go. We try not to focus on legal nightmares in reviewing new software, but one can’t help wondering what would happen if one were to post something complimentary about a neighbor in a public wave and then another neighbor altered your posting by falsely accusing the individual of sleeping around with half of the neighborhood. Obviously, there’s still a good bit of work to do on the security front and in deciding whether allowing others to amend someone else’s postings is a good idea. Whether Google gets the security piece right will ultimately determine the success of Google Wave.

For public waves, it’s a no-brainer. You just can’t! And, to be honest, in reviewing hundreds of public waves in the preview, we can’t recall a single instance where this functionality would have been necessary. In a true (private) collaborative project, it would be wonderful but color-coding of text or some other method of identifying who wrote what would be absolutely essential from both a practical and legal standpoint. Both Microsoft Word and WordPerfect have had this capability forever. The simple way in Google Wave would be to add user’s pictures with a colored border and matching colored text whenever they make changes to someone else’s posting. With this addition, Google Wave could become a wonderful collaborative tool in both legal and technical environments.

And, speaking of word processing, Google Wave falls a bit short on the word processing scale. Despite the richness of Google’s knol platform, some of that functionality still is not available in Google Wave. The text editing and formatting is much akin to what’s available in a typical email client. You can change fonts, adjust color, indent, add hyperlinks and images, but that’s about as far as it goes. There are no headers, footers, footnotes, etc. So you can’t easily transform a wave into a formatted document for printing at this juncture. But that may come as development continues.

There are a few other things still on our Wish List. First, we’d love for Google Wave to evolve into a tool that can replace today’s forums which are not much more functional than BBS software was two decades ago. Once there is administrator control of rollback and protection of waves by granular access rights to functions, bots, and gadgets as well as the ability to block users and ranges of IP addresses, this should happen. Second, we obviously want the ability to include either read-only or read-write access to waves in a blog or web site. We already have the web site functionality working (see below for a sample), but you currently need a Google Wave account to access it. Third, we really want to assimilate all of the tools we use into the Google Wave Desktop so that everything is accessible in one place. That’s what Cloud Computing is all about, and Google Wave comes closer than anything else in meeting that need. You already can access Gmail on your Google Wave desktop and any web site that can be framed can be included in a wave as an iFrame. That doesn’t leave much once the security feature set is in place to protect all the components.

Finally, we’ll close with a brief mention of the coolest feature of Google Wave. That is its expandability which is enabled by incorporating bots and gadgets into any wave. As you might imagine, these extensions can do almost anything… good or bad. Here’s a short list of what has been developed and what’s already on the radar in just a few short weeks:

Eliza – ogenex@appspot.com – An implementation of the Eliza chatbot borrowed from the NLTK.
Elize – elizarobot@appspot.com – Is one of the first robots that was created by non Googler and is very useful if you are feeling alone in your Google Wave client.
Rude chatbot – notatory@appspot.com – An obnoxious chatbot borrowed from the Natural Language Processing Toolkit.
TooAngel Wave – In Progress – tooangel-wave@appspot.com – A self learning robot, that will respond to a reply in a more humanoid way

BotURL – boturl@appspot.com – A URL Linker that replaces full URLs with hyperlinks.
Calcbot – calcbot@appspot.com – This bot will do in place calculations for simple mathematical expressions and allow you to use user defined variables.
Cartoony – cartoonybot@appspot.com – Replaces the text of every submitted blip with a cartoon balloon that contains the text instead. Colors the balloons based on username.
Dice Bot – dice-bot@appspot.com – Dice-rolling bot. Dice Bot will replace XdY (X is the number of dice; Y is the number of sides) with the results of those rolls.
Flippy – flippy-wave@appspot.com – Turns text upside-down.
Fnordlinky – fnordlinks@appspot.com – Replaces "PMID <number>" with article information from PubMed.
Hearty Emobot – hearty-emobot@appspot.com – Replaces ASCII art with wingding characters.
i-cron – i-cron@appspot.com – Evaluates Python expressions. Looks at blips in event, searches for CALC() macros and executes Python code using exec().
Insulty – megabytemb123@appspot.com – Information Needed
IPA Bot – ipa-bot@appspot.com – Changes normal letters into special characters used for phonetics.
– piratify@appspot.com – Turns whatever you type into "Pirate Speak" .. Arrrr.
Plotzie – plotzie@appspot.com – Plots sparklines from your data.
Shortee – Wish – Change “c u l8r” to “see you later” etc.
Swedish Chef – borkforceone@appspot.com – Changes english into Swedish-Chef Speak. Bork! Bork!
Syntaxy – kasyntaxy@appspot.com – Syntaxy does blip-by-blip syntax highlighting for a variety of languages including Python, Java, C, C++, html, css and javascript.
Watexy – watexy@appspot.com – Use LaTeX mathematical language in your Waves!
Wikify – wikifier@appspot.com – Replaces specific marked up text with a link to Wikipedia or a description relevant to the marked text.

Hangman – wavehangman@appspot.com – Play Hangman.
Roshambo – roshambowave@appspot.com – Play Roshambo (Rock / Paper / Scissors).
Speedy – Wish – Track the words per minute of all participants, competitive typing!

Groupy – groupy-robot@appspot.com – Robot to manage groups.

drop.io – mikeswaverobot@appspot.com – Creates a drop and puts the info into the wave whenever the robot is added as a participant.
OpenAustralia – In Progress – A robot to allow interaction with the OpenAustralia web site.
PlonieBot – In Progress – ploniebot@appspot.com – Brings wave document editing capabilities to the Plone CMS
Poppy – In Progress – poppywave@appspot.com – Helps bridge Google Wave conversations to email users outside the Wave.
Rssybot – rssybot@appspot.com – Turn google wave into an RSS reader!
Starify – starifybot@appspot.com – Lets you star waves, in sort of bookmarking style.
Tweety the Twitbot – tweety-wave@appspot.com – You can access your Twitter account.
Twiliobot – twiliobot@appspot.com – Transforms phone numbers into click-to-call links. If user clicks a link, a call is placed to his phone and to the number in the link. The call can be transcribed and inserted into the wave as text with a link to the audio.
Wave-Email – In Progress – wave-email@appspot.com – Provide an extension to Google Wave which will allow the integration of both sending and receiving emails.
Wave Live Messenger – wavelivemessenger@appspot.com – Allows you to chat to your windows live messenger contacts from inside a wave.

PhilBot – Wish – A suggested solution to the problem of waves with languages you can’t read.
Rosy Etta – rosy@wavesandbox.com – Translator (40 Languages).

Polly the Pollster – polly-wave@appspot.com – Poll Bot.

Search / Aggregation
Dr Maps – dr-maps@appspot.com – Updates a wave by inserting a map associated to an address.
Dr Weather – shiny-sky@appspot.com – Gives the weather for a City
Embedded Search Results – wave-sandbox@appspot.com – Web and Image searches inline.
FML Blipper – fmlblipper@appspot.com – displays random FML story from www.fmylife.com
Grauniady – grauniady@appspot.com – Searches the latest items from The Guardian for a given phrase.
Stocky – stocky-wave@appspot.com – Detects stock symbols from a wave and updates it with the live stock price.
Wavethingy – wavethingy@appspot.com – Searches Amazon for DVDs and books, and gives the author a cut of any purchases made off the links.
Yelpy – yelpful@appspot.com – Searches Yelp with a user defined location and category.

AmazonBot – amazon-withwaves-com@appspot.com – Enables social product research and shopping on Amazon.com. Wave participants can share products & reviews with contacts in real-time thanks to automatic queries by the AmazonBot against conversation keywords. The AmazonBot gadget can detect products and return inline product links or a custom full product browser.
– blog-wave@appspot.com – Information Needed
Bit.ly Bot – bitly-bot@appspot.com – Shortens the url using bitly.
Botty – Wish – Will automatically add a set of useful bots to a wave according to a collection of bots (so they don’t have to individually be added when you use them all the time.
CountColon – countcolon@appspot.com – Adds text statistics to your blips (words, lines, etc.)
Companion Sphere – companionsphere@appspot.com – Collection of geek utils, first working verb is "lookup" for wikipedia/wiktionary one-line descriptions.
Databot – Wish – Will start as soon as the GData interface is published.
Emoticony – emoticonbot@appspot.com – Replaces text representations of emoticons with the relevant image.
JBREAKOUT – jbreakout@appspot.com – Debug utility that reports event triggers.
Maison – maison@appspot.com – Makes blips public at http://maison.appspot.com.
Multi – multi-wave@appspot.com – A quote collector. Reply a blip you want to quote with ‘quote this’ and randomly display a quote with ‘quote <wave @account.com>’. The bot is still being under development but you can try playing with it.
Natural Language Processing – knowledge-books@appspot.com – Adds blips with NLP analysis.
Nokar – lab2market@appspot.com – Has many features such as translations, image insertion, insert last tweets etc.
Posterous – posterous-robot@appspot.com – A robot for posterous.com user to post blog in Google Wave. Here is how to write a blog using Google Wave Robot for Posterous.
Publisher – wave-publisher@appspot.com – Information Needed
Skimmy – wave-skimmy@appspot.com – Converts text emoticons, from : ) to img. Has a bookmarklet which creates a popup menu to insert emoticons for which the code is unknown.
Smiley – smiley-bot@appspot.com – Changes the smiley symbols to smiley images.
Smiley – In Progress – smiley-robot@appspot.com – Changes the smiley symbols to smiley images.
Style Chart – stylechart@appspot.com – Inserts a chart into a wave.

Wave Management
Bouncy – bouncy-wave@appspot.com – Allows you to remove robots from a wave. Doesn’t seem to work on real people though, and laughs if you try to ask it to kick itself out. To get it to kick a bot out, type "bounce:name@domain.com"
Linear – Wish – Enforce all replies to be to the main wave. If a user replies to a reply, remove it and place it as a reply to the main wavelet.
Read Onlie – readonliebot@appspot.com – Records the original wave content. Whenever it’s edited, the content is replaced with the original. Simple as that.
Seekdroid – seekdroid@appspot.com – You can list Robots, add them and find them out, easy to use. In continuous development. Website with all the information seekdroid.appspot.com.
Sweepy – sweepy-wave@appspot.com – Remove empty, whitespace-only blips.
Taggy – taggy-wave@appspot.com – Recognize #hashtags and add them as tags to the wave.
Tocgen – tocgen@appspot.com – Table of Contents auto-generated and updated based on the h1,h2,h3,h4 in a wave.
Twitusernames – twitusernames@appspot.com – Replaces all Twitter @username with links to the Twitter accounts.

Gadget Utilities
Ajax Animator – In Progress – http://antimatter15.com/ajaxanimator/wave/manifest.xml – A fully integrated multi-user web based vector graphic animation authoring environment.
AmazonBot Gadgett – http://amazon-withwaves-com.appspot.com/gadgets/AmazonProductList.xml – The AmazonBot gadget can detect products and return inline product links or a custom full product browser.
Bidder – http://wave-api.appspot.com/public/gadgets/bidder.xml – Simple Auction.
Checky – http://wave-gadgets.appspot.com/checky.xml – Basecamp-like checklists with drag-and-drop.
Click me – http://wave-api.appspot.com/public/gadgets/hellowave.xml – Shows a button with a counter. Each time the button gets clicked, the counter is incremented by one. Shows off how the state interaction works.
HTML – http://wave-ide.appspot.com/html.xml – Embed any HTML into a wave.
iFrame – http://wave-ide.appspot.com/iframe.xml – Embed any web page into a wave.
iWave – http://gadget.wave.to/iWave/iWave.xml – Allows you to create a profile on wave to make wave just a little more personal. Uses facebook connect to retrieve your details if you sign in.
Licensing – In Progress – http://wave-license.appspot.com/license_gadget.xml – Creative Commons RDF Embedding – Planning Stage.
Maps – http://hosting.gmodules.com/ig/gadgets/file/101415471413908368316/mappy.xml -Embed Google Map.
Napkin – http://my-wave-gadgets.appspot.com/wave/NapkinGadget.xml – Example of Flash/Flex Wave Gadget, similar to Whiteboard gadget above – source on Google Code.
QuakeBot – In Progress – Server information on the Quake 3 protocol.
Raffly – http://raffly.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/sandbox/raffly-xml1/raffly.xml – Insert this gadget to select a random participant from your wave to be the winner. The winner of what? Well that’s up to you 🙂
Ratings – http://google-wave-resources.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/samples/extensions/gadgets/ratings/ratings.xml – Lets participants rate and review a topic (movie, restaurant, etc) in a wave and shows a tally of the result.
Slashdot Gadget – http://www.m1cr0sux0r.com/slashdot.xml – Loads latest Headlines from Slashdot.
Troco – An experimental peer-to-peer currency – http://troco.ourproject.org/gadget/org.ourproject.troco.client.TrocoWaveGadget.gadget.xml – Aims to provide a decentralized complementary community currency system, that is, a peer-to-peer currency system. Also you can see it as an IOU or promissory note based system. More info click here.
Vector Editor – http://jsvectoreditor.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/wave/vectoreditor.xml – A cross platform collaborative real time vector graphics editor.
Whiteboard – http://vps.michaelrose.id.au/canvas.xml – Draw on a virtual whiteboard.
Who is Coming? – http://wave-api.appspot.com/public/gadgets/areyouin/gadget.xml -Show a list of all people that have said whether they will come or not.

Gadget Games
Backgammon – Wish – Remove all of one’s own checkers from the board before one’s opponent can do the same. [Wikipedia]
Battleship – Wish – Displays different board based on user.
Boxes – In Progress – Connect lines to make boxes and win.
Connect 4/Four-in-a-row – In Progress – sdunster@wavesandbox.com – http://www.sdunster.com/wave/four.xml – 2 users + observers, turn locking, just waiting to write win-detection code.
Floodit – http://gadget.wave.to/floodit/game.xml – 2 player race to fill a board with colors.
Magnetic Poetry – http://hosting.gmodules.com/ig/gadgets/file/107558585548952247431/fridge-11.xml – Re-arrange random words to form poetry.
Match them colors! – In Progress – Match 3 / gem matching game.
Othello – Wish – Play Reversi.
Sudoku – http://blah.appspot.com/wave/sudoku/sudoku.xml – Play Sudoku.
The Button – http://hyperthese.net/wave-gadgets/the-button.xml – A useless (I mean USELESS) game.

CVS integration – Wish – CVS history can be converted into a wave with playback.
GIT integration – Wish – GIT history can be imported and played back (dffs).
SVN integration – Wish – SVN History can be converted into a wave with playback.

Google Wave Scrollbars – http://www.uniformedopinion.com/google-wave-native-scrollbars-extension/google-wave.crx – Changes the wave scrollbars to the default system scrollbars.

Enhanced Google Maps. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added yet another Google Map to Nerd Vittles. Now, in addition to showing our location with Google Latitude, we also are displaying your location based upon your IP address. We’ll show you how to add something similar to any LAMP-based Linux system in coming weeks. It’s a powerful technology that has enormous potential. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Maps, click on the Hybrid and Satellite buttons and then check out the scaling and navigation options. Double-click to zoom. Incredible!

whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.

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Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

For those of you that already have Google Wave accounts, here’s a sample of how a wave will look in a WordPress posting. You can even add content to the wave! This works in Safari and Chrome most of the time, Firefox some of the time (if you turn on Accept 3d Party Cookies), and IE almost never. For those of you that are not part of the Google Wave preview, you’ll just have to wait patiently until Google turns on at least read-only access to this functionality: