Tomorrow, I’m going to the Google Wave Developer Day in Sydney (#wavedaysyd). I’m really looking forward to finding out what ideas developers have for Wave. I’m not a developer but I do have some ideas as to what I want it to do, hence this post. This post is Part 1 and I will follow up with a part 2 after the event.
I was completely blown away when I first saw the video of Google Wave, because I immediately thought how good it would be for project collaboration. My background is in construction so I am specifically referring to construction project collaboration, but due to the intricacies of construction project collaboration, the features can be used for any type of project.
Since my initial wave (pardon the pun) of enthusiasm, I have put up a post of some of the things that Google Wave must have before I think it can be really useful. See the post here.
Email vs Wave
One of the very interesting points about Wave is that it’s not like email – the wave does not go anywhere (unless it’s going off to a federated wave server… but we will talk about that later), it just sits in the same place it was created. The users log into the wave server to see the wave… all the participants on the wave log in and see the same wave. This is not anything new. In fact, it is how a number of construction collaboration products work already (Aconex, ProjectCentre and Keystone are three that I know work this way). This works really well because there is no way for the message to get lost in transit, so it builds trust in the system and the knowledge that if a person has been added to the message, it is a guarantee (almost, apart from some small limitations – eg you spelt the name wrong) that that person can see the message. So it is really good to see this feature come to our regular communications.
The Wiki-like features of Wave will enable meetings to be planned and recorded quickly and easily, with the Agenda, scheduling, attendees and minutes all in the one wave. Imagine if the notes of the meeting were recorded as blips as they were happening in real life, the playback feature of the wave will be a great record of what happened in the meeting… Imagine several people in the meeting all writing blips as they pick up something of interest in the meeting. With a tablet PC this could even be a direct handwritten blip.
But what if we took that further – what about recording the audio or even video of the meeting and time syncing the notes with the recordings (Wave does not do this yet, but the possibilities are endless). The possibilities for embedding the live video (eg something like tokbox) of all the participants, whether physically in attendance, or virtually, would be amazing.
Not being disrespectful to construction folk, because they do a fantastic job, but the most technologically advanced that most construction people are is with the use of the mobile phone and email (just a year or so ago it would have been the mobile phone and a fax machine, so we have come a long way there already recently). So with Wave being so much like email it will be quick and easy to sort out problems before they get too big. It would be so easy if the Architect happens to be online at the time the Wave was started so the conversation could immediately turn into a real time chat and things are recorded as they happen.
Please see my previous post about security, privacy etc for concerns about the real time chat aspects of Wave.
I think it’s a long-shot that Wave will replace specific document management software (eg Aconex, ProjectCentre or even Woobius for construction, or enterprise document management suites like Documentum, SharePoint and Trim) at enterprise level, but imagine the possibilities for small projects. Start a wave called Current Documents and attach all the current documents. Split the wave into document subject areas (eg Floor Plans, Elevations). Attach the current documents, add people to the wave. These people now have exactly the same view of the information that you do – “one version of the truth”. Split off particular documents into a new wave (eg drawings for the electrician or the plumber) and add the correct people to see only the documents that they need to see. When a document gets updated with the new version it is instantly updated to all the participants because they are all seeing that one and only copy of the wave.
Of course, SharePoint, specialist Document Management systems and even a Confluence Wiki could all handle document management simply and easily, but Wave is free (as far as we know right now, but there will probably be a premium version, like GAFYD) and is as simple as email. Now I don’t know if all of this can actually be done right now, but I hope to find out soon.
Forms are a vital part of Construction Project Management. The hark back from the good old days when nothing happened on a construction site without it being written on a form in triplicate and distributed to the relevant parties. It kept a level of control on the project and all parties knew where they stood contractually. But it was S-L-O-W. Email has obliterated the comforting level of control that we used to have, with decisions now being made on the fly, which has made it faster, but we have lost most of the control and often find ourselves catching up with the “official” paperwork months down the track. The overhead is enormous. ProjectCentre, (and I think Keystone) try to overcome this by having e-forms as the basis for their communications (Aconex just uses email templates). So it would be great if there was a way that the Wave could be a bit more structured with templates, form fields, controls and a concept like a “submit” button. To give a simple way to submit and transmit more structured data that may be required in some cases.
Now if this was then XML based and could have a bot that updates a corporate database once submitted, then that would be even better!
The amount of time wasted on construction projects with photo management is incredible, and a simpler way to share, track and manage photos is critical. Of course, on construction projects photos are critical and a picture tells 1000 words. Photos are used to solve disputes, record defects, record progress, record delays – anything (As the whole philosophy of a modern construction project is based around the concept of “Cover Your Arse”, the invention if the digital camera has been a revolution in construction).
Photo management as easy as snap, upload, drag onto the wave, tag and share is a long way from folder upon folder of untagged and undated photos on the corporate file share. Of course, flickr and just about any other web based photo album app makes it easy to upload photos and the wonderful EyeFi card makes getting the pics off the camera simple, so Wave does not have an advantage there. But I think the sharing of the images is what is going to make the difference.
So there are 30 pictures of some defects in a room. 15 are for the plumber, 10 for the plasterer and 5 for the electrician – and 2 are good enough to send to the client as progress shots. Just drag the 30 photos on to the wave and tag them. Highlight the 15 shots for the plumber and add him to the wave for those shots. Do the same for the electrician and the plasterer. Then grab the two images for the client and publish them to the project progress blog. Simple! And a full discussion can be had with the electrician back and forth until the issues are resolved – all captured and recorded.
Now lets take that one step further and have the images sent directly from the mobile phone on site onto the wave – geotagged with their location. I’m sure that is going to be possible soon enough.
Mapping and Photos
This may not be specifically Wave related but it is just something I have been thinking of for a while now. We are so used to geotagged photos now that immediately appear on the map as soon as we upload to flickr. At Remix last week (the video for the keynote is not up yet but here is the link to the videos site in case it appears), Incite Keystone showed a prototype of a photo being taken on a mobile phone and then appearing on a map (not sure exactly what technology it was, something Microsoft – Bing Maps, DeepZoom, DeepEarth – not quite sure… and I’m not entirely convinced the whole thing happened automatically as it could have been a bit of smoke and mirrors, with the image having being pre-placed on the map for the sake of the demo, but I love the concept, regardless).
So what if we could take it one step further and rather than the map, have the photos placed on the location on the floor plan (or how ’bout inside the 3D model – but hey, one step at a time…). Now I know that GPS is not accurate enough to do this to the few hundred millimetre accuracy that it would have to be, so I would be happy to be able to drag a marker for the photo onto the correct location on the floor plan – just as you would placing a marker on o a google map. I think this would be really useful – anything to make photos of construction projects easier to manage would be.
Federated Wave Servers
Now this is taking things to the Nth degree but it is still important. A lot of companies will be reluctant to use Wave at the moment because they don’t want Google “owning” their data. Thankfully many construction companies are “getting over” this limitation and using multi-tenanted databases with SAAS vendors like Aconex and ProjectCentre. However, there are still a number of industries that can not even think of having their data even off site, let alone in a database in a row next to someone else’s (Lawyers being a good example). So let them have their own Wave Server hosted on-premise, and all these issues go away. (I still think this is quite a long way away, however).
Another reason for a company to build their own Wave Server is for the volume and size of the documents… if they are big documents (eg large photos, or video) that need to be downloaded often, then it will be best to have the Wave Server in house.
Other Articles and Ideas
- http://www.extranetevolution.com/extranet_evolution/2009/05/google-wave.html – As Paul Wilkinson mentions on this topic, once we can get Wave integrating with existing collaboration systems out there, we will start to see the full benefit of online collaboration systems. I can’t even begin to imagine what some of these integrations will be, but the possibilities are endless.
- http://www.ddmcd.com/wave.html – I like this article as it talks about Soft Collaboration (eg Wave) vs Hard Collaboration (eg Aconex), and it also talks about the financial aspects of the project – after all it’s what the whole project is about – money. I will need to cover off money in another post… but the forms idea will work for the money side of things anyway.
- http://www.thechangebusiness.co.uk/TCB/Blog/Entries/2009/5/31_Google_waves_for_construction.html – This article starts to talk about the design process – Wow, that brings in things like BIM and the whole design process – again lots to think about.
- What about the social aspects for construction – Social Networking in any form has not ventured into Construction – you won’t even find many construction people on LinkedIn… will this change and evolve?
- Facilities management – Everything you can do to manage a project during construction you can use to manage the building during it’s occupancy phase, so Wave will have a definite place there… but what about the possibilities of bots hardwired to the building talking to Wave and to each other… now that’s getting exiting…
I’m going to leave it there before my ideas start getting even more absurd, and I will be really interested to see if I come back from my first hands-on look at Wave tomorrow either way more exited or a bit more disillusioned.