The SeattleTimes tried an experiment Monday. It created a public Wave (pdf) to share information about the Sunday shooting of four Pierce County police officers. Here are some tips if you are considering GoogleWave* as a platform for engaging the public.

GoogleWave Tips

Public Waves* can very quickly blow up (explode*) – especially if the topic is the least bit contentious. There are a lot of people on Wave who seem “newbie” not just to GoogleWave but to general digital discussion netiquette; I’m basing this assessment on my six or so weeks of periodic immersion in GoogleWave.

Given the early early early nature of this tool, here are some suggestions for engaging with a public Wave; these suggestions will probably change as the tool becomes more mature:

  • If a topic is “hot”, make it clear that the wave will be moderated, but only to help with signal-to-noise ratio.
  • Assign a moderator who will check the Wave frequently. In this case, moderation means deleting off-topic blips* (a) to keep the wave from exploding and (b) to help with signal-to-noise ratio. It may also mean off-branching topics — in other words, having the first or central wave “point” to sub-sets of conversation. It’s pretty easy to create those: “copy to new wave” will easily create a child Wave from a blip, but you’ll have to manually note that there is a child topic (parent-child syntax from database lingo).
  • Because the Wave is public, moderation is actually “ad hoc” – that is, anyone can edit any blip or delete any blip. If a topic is contentious (think abortion or the death penalty), vandalism seems likely. [See the LA Times experiment in wikis.]
  • In the main (first) entry, outline expectations. A common one in collaborative information/sharing is to “edit” the first blip – so that current info is “on top.” Use the reply function for discussion, not to add new content.
  • Ask people not to embed extensions. 🙂
  • Because Wave is so new, provide how-to links/guidance on editing and replying. Suggest people use Chrome* (PC/Mac) or Waveboard* (Mac) because these tools currently yield a more positive user experience. Provide links to those browsers/clients.
  • Spend some time in Wave before trying this!

* Definitions

GoogleWave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. It has its own nomenclature.

  • Blip: a single message or unit of communication within a Wave. Think of a blip like one text message or an individual IM response or a single Tweet. The first line of a blip becomes its title or subject line (depends upon which frame you use when thinking of Wave).
  • Chrome: Google Chrome is a web browser that is partially HTML 5 compliant.
  • Explode: when a Wave begins to approach 300 blips, it becomes unstable. It may cause a browser to crash or it may not be possible for a person to add a blip or make an edit. When a Wave reaches this stage, Google says it is “about to explode” and advises that the Wave be reloaded. However, reloading generally does not solve the problem. For all intents and purposes, a Wave at this stage is an archive.
  • Public Wave: a Wave that has been made “public” which means anyone in the GoogleWave universe can see, read and edit the Wave.
  • Wave: an entire threaded discussion that may include both human and robot participants. Waves may consist of richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, polls or other tools (gadgets or extensions). A Wave is modified in near real-time.
  • WaveBoard: client software for Google Wave for both Mac OS X 10.5+ and iPhone OS 3.0+

To learn more about GoogleWave, see The Complete Guide To GoogleWave.

This post first appeared at WiredPen.

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
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