Google Wave: Surf’s up for copywriting, or a tsunami waiting to happen?

10 September 2009

Google Wave is a new communication and collaboration tool (coming soon) that does to email what the iPhone has done for mobiles i.e. takes it beyond the current limitations to a mind-blowing world of possibilities.

Lars Rasmussen at Google, explains that email is 40 years old and was invented before the web actually existed. Email is an old idea and its time has come.

Let’s have conversations
Their simple premise is that instead of communication being between two points, (with other people copied and things attached), it should be a conversation, sitting squarely in the middle of as many people as you like, who can input in real-time, where and how they like.

So instead of ‘mail’ we have a ‘Wave’. Let’s assume I invite you and a few others to join a Wave, which suggests that we all go to a film. For example:

Hi guys
Anyone fancy Harry Potter at the Marina Cinema Complex?
How about next Thursday at 8pm?
We could meet at the Big Bad Sailor pub at 7.30pm.
Pizza on me afterwards, to celebrate the copywriter awards we won last week.

You can then comment on a bit of my message – perhaps suggesting a different time to meet – and you attach it to specific part of the message. We all see that change in real-time attributed to you. Others suggest a different film. Their comment would be at the top. Then I add a trailer of the film to try and win you around. And all this happens in real-time. Your comments appear, character by character, as you type, visible to everyone in our Wave. This is email, meets instant messaging, meets photo share, meets YouTube, meets Twitter, all on steroids.

Join the Wave late, or want to review who said what, and Playback enables you to follow each change all the way back to the origins of what was said. Or you can choose to review what a particular participant said.

And there’s more. So much more. It’s not just about messages, it’s about collaborative work. Take a pitch document for example. Track changing in real-time becomes possible – and get this – with as many of us editing as you like. I can publish it to a blog with a touch of a button using ‘bloggi’; I can add links using ‘linkie’; l can find relevant data and embed videos using ‘searchi’ and the list goes on and on. And it will go on and on, because like the iPhone principle, this is built on open source, with developers being encouraged to create new apps (API’s actually) that will work within Wave.

So cool, but oh so open to abuse
It already has many, many cool features. Like an amazing spell check that understands the context of the words you’re typing and will correct as you go along. Like real-time sharing, so that you see what I’m writing as I write it, instead of waiting for me to press send like you do on instant messaging. Like an app that offers instant translation into any of 40 languages as I type.

From a copywriter perspective it creates the potential to generate copy and web content created by committees. And that is so not a good thing.

Imagine we’re copywriting a direct mail piece and we invite six people to look at the draft. You could end up with all six editing the carefully crafted words, each with a slightly different perspective on what we’re writing and what we’re trying to achieve. The result: watered down, confused or flabby copywriting that just won’t hit the mark.

Wave goodbye to email
Google Wave is so completely how life should be, that there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll be waving goodbye to email before you can press 'delete'. It’s an amazing intuitive tool that will make collaborative work easier and it’s another major step towards the idea of: ‘it doesn’t matter where you are, you can still do great work’.

The issue for copywriters will be organising work so that someone retains overall editorial control. Sounds simple, but there’s bound to be a bit of Wave-rage before we all get clear on how to get the best copy using this incredible new tool. Still, I'm really looking forward to surfing my first Google Wave soon - overall, I think it will be a fantastic addition to our work world.

If you've got a spare hour and 20, watch Lars' launch to developers on YouTube here. Or sign up for previews at

Category: Web & e, General ruminations

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