Field of Science

Using Google Wave

I admit I'm pretty excited about Google Wave. I am currently involved in a fairly large collaboration. It's large in

  • the scale of phenomena we're trying to understand (essentially, argument realization)
  • the number of experiments (literally, dozens)
  • the number of people involved (two faculty, three grad students, and a rotating cast of research assistants, all spread across three universities)
One problem is keeping everybody up-to-date and on the same page, but an even more serious problem is that's difficult to keep track of everything we've discovered. In the last few weeks, we've moved much of our discussion into Wave, and I think already I have a better sense of some of the issues we've been dealing with.

Collaborative Editing?

If you are interested in Wave, the best thing is to simply check out their website or one of the many other websites describing out to use it. The main idea behind it is to enable collaborative document editing -- that is, a document that can be edited by a group of people simultaneously.

Anyone who has worked on a group project is familiar with the following problem: only one person can work on a document at a given time. For instance, if I send a paper to a co-author for editing, I can't work on the paper in the meantime or risk a real headache when trying to merge the separate edits later.

Google Docs and similar services have allowed real-time collaborative editing for a while, but although these services allow real-time collaborations, they weren't really designed for real-time collaborations. For instance, it's difficult to record who made what changes. Similarly, it doesn't allow comments (for instance, sometimes you don't want to change the text, you just want to say you don't understand it). If one person makes a change and you want to undo it, good luck. Google Wave has these and other features.

Using the Wave

Currently, we're using Wave as a collective notebook, where we record everything we've learned in the course of our research. This keeps everyone up-to-date. It also allows us to discuss issues without requiring meetings (a good thing, since we're at different universities).

For instance, recently I read a claim that a certain grammatical structure that is impossible in English happens to be possible in Japanese. I noted this in a section of our document, and attached a comment: "Yasu, Miki: can you check this?" As it happens, two members of our project are native Japanese speakers. In a series of nested comments, they discussed the issue, came to a conclusion (that the paper I had read was wrong), and then we finally deleted the comments and replaced the whole section with a summary of the discussion and conclusions.

In other sections, we've included the methods for experiments that we're designing, commenting on and ultimately editing the methods until everyone agrees.

Needed Improvements

At the moment, Wave is very much in beta testing and is underpowered. Although you can embed files and websites, there's no way to embed, say, a spreadsheet -- a major inconvenience for us, since much of our work involves making lists of verbs and their properties. Whenever I want the most updated list, I need to email whoever was working on it last, which isn't ideal.

Of course, we could use Google Docs, but it has the problems listed above (no way of commenting, no track-changes, no archive in case we decide to undo a change). It's assumed that these kinds of features will be added in the future.

1 comment:

Pedro J. said...

Actually you can embed docs as explained here