Late last year the Web was abuzz with talk about Google’s preview release of “Wave” and its possibilities. If you haven’t heard of it, Google described it as a “personal communication and collaboration tool”. It is a web-based service, computing platform, and communications tool designed to merge e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking. In a little more layman’s terms:

  • A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
  • A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
  • A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

How does genealogy fit in? Since genealogy research is frequently about collaboration and sharing of materials, the real-time communication and group collaboration power of Wave seems to have real potential to revolutionize genealogy research, especially as more and more research is done online. You can drop in images, documents, video, maps and more. People you add to a wave after it is underway can play back additions to the wave up to that point to see how the conversation developed and get right up to speed. And there are a number of software bits called “gadgets” and “robots” that add extra functionality to a wave.

But the momentum seems to have stalled in recent months. The main genealogy wave I subscribed to (and one of the first to pop up after the preview launch of Wave) is called “Public Genealogy Wave for the Discussion of Genealogy.” As of today it has 61 followers. But after several months there are only 91 messages posted on it. I noticed many of the other Waves I follow (both genealogy and not) are in a similar state. Has the Wave gone flat? I think one of the problems is that as a preview, Google Wave is still buggy. I’m sure these bugs will be worked out in time.

The bigger issue is that it is not for the technologically faint-of-heart. The ambitious and noble goal of Wave — to unite and simplify a multitude of communication technologies — has had the opposite effect. The interface is complicated. It seems harder to follow a conversation in the stream than it should be. While I’m a self-proclaimed technophile and gadget geek, I found the thought of slogging through that stream of messages made it easy for me avoid logging in. And here we are, four months later.

So at least as far as genealogy research is concerned is Google Wave dead? Maybe not yet, but complexity is rarely a good thing when you’re trying to build a user base for a tool.

Google Wave in Plain English (video)
Google Wave Made Simple (video)
Google Wave 15 Features (video)
Google Wave for Genealogy
Eastman’s Online Genealogy Blog (EOGN)
Is Google Wave the future of collabrative genealogy research?

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