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Ok, I'll try to refrain from wave-puns as much as possible in this post, but it'll be hard, given the wave of  comments and opinion hitting the innerwebz these days. Oops, sorry. grin.png
If you don't know what Google Wave is, there's plenty to read by now: The Google Wave site, of course, TechChrunch, WebStrategist, the official Google blog, naturally, or O'Reilly.
Or, you can just watch the 1:20hrs video of the keynote presentation, which is what I did and I did not regret it:



I've found three posts, so far which cover Google Wave from a scientist's perspective. Martin Fenner asks that Google Wave mustn't forget the scientists, Ricardo Vidal dreams of the perfect (Google) Wave to surf the streams and Cameron Neylon thinks that everything has changed in his wave of adulation. Of course, I first learned about Google Wave from the various threads on FriendFeed.
It's not without some irony that the brain child of scientists - the internet - is now developing at such a rate, that we hopelessly outpaced scientists feel the urge to plead to a private company to not abandon us poor scientists. Some of us, after all, are spending roughly 5 billion € on the most complex experiment in the history of humanity. Embarrassingly, I would posit that most of today's scientists use the internet for science at roughly the level of 1994: Browsing and e-mail. However, this should not keep us from joining the evolution of Web 3.0 and help develop Science 2.0 (see, even in our versioning we lag behind the general public). What could Google Wave do to bring the way science is done into the 21st century?
  1. A great example of the abovementioned anachronism in science is paper writing. The bread-and-butter task in our publish-or-perish world. How do today's scientists write papers? They edit documents in MS Word and then send each other versions via e-mail. Which is what we have been doing since about 1994...
    There have since been a few developments which a few scientists have picked up. Social bookmarking à la Connotea or citeUlike is one area and social networks such as FriendFeed or Nature Networks is another (and many scientists use Facebook privately). One of the latest of them which I also use is Mendeley. Mendeley cooperates with citeUlike such that you can add papers from a website to your collection and then add/edit the references in your manuscript from your collection. Having had a look at the editing capabilities of Google Wave, it is clear that one of the first things we as scientists should do is to add collaborative reference management and figure/table numbering to the rich text editing capabilities. Martin Fenner lists this feature on his blog post and we're discussing it at FriendFeed. Of course, collaborative editing doesn't stop at papers: grants, lab-wikis, institute websites, manuals, protocols, fridge content, who's up for journal club?, which machine is currently broken/working, where is item X?, who's going to the conference? Which posters are you going to look at?.... the list goes on and on! Google Wave has solutions for all of these processes - today.
    Obviously, any sort of peer-review is also set to profit tremendously from such collaborative editing - isn't that one definition of peer-review?
  2. Another workflow that is seriously outdated is the way collaborations are run during the project. Today, hardly a project is conducted by the lone researcher in a dark lab. Mostly, it's (international, transcontinental) teams of scientists with various specialisations. How do scientists today update each other on their various projects? Scientist A meets scientist B at a conference: "Oh, and by the way, we found that thing we were supposed to be looking for - it's not what you thought". Or: scientist A emails scientist B: "hey, it just occurred to me it's been like forever. Have you guys found that thing yet?". If as many scientists will be using Google Wave as are using e-mail today, the progress is posted (automatically, if the experiment is automated) to the wave of the project for all participants to see in real time. This is actually a feature of a grant proposal we just sent to the German funding agency (DFG). We used a predecessor of Google Wave, Google documents, to draft the proposal. We might as well now tell the funding agency that the methodology we said we would employ in our grant proposal is already outdated and that we'll be looking into using Google Wave. See also our discussion of this grant on FriendFeed. Automated data logging aspect was also covered in Cameron Neylon's post.
  3. If everybody is using Google Wave as people are using e-mail today, every contribution of each scientist to every project will be logged and timestamped. Author contributions, database developments/contributions, expriments, ideas, interpretations, anything could be used and attributed. We'd have an entirely new reputation system at our hands, one that could finally replace the centuries old 'publish-or-perish'. If people are saying that e-mail died last Thursday, the Impact Factor died along with it.
A main factor driving adoption (besides the features and potential) of Google Wave will be that it's going to be Open Source as well as a new standard (federal) protocol, similar to the SMTP on which e-mail is running today. This means, you could set up your own version of Google Wave and keep it and any contents in it entirely secret and hidden from public view, just like current intranets. It will be interesting how companies like Facebook and Friendfeed will react to Google Wave, as their functionality is in serious competition by Google Wave. Some think Friendfeed might actually benefit.

In all this hype and enthusiasm, it only remains to wonder what a company could possibly gain from making more than two years of R&D open source and to push for an open standard. Surely, Google will not give all this effort away for free. They may speculate on a head start in developing Wave clients (or servers). They may release basically unusuable code in to the open. Who knows. True non-profit standards are rarely developed by for-profit industries, so scientists need to remain skeptical and prepared to find their own solutions until we have all the code in our hands.

UPDATE: There's a great article over at the Chicago Sunday Times explaining what exactly Google Wave is.
Posted on Sunday 31 May 2009 - 18:28:12 comment: 0
Google Wave   science 2.0   


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