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How Google Wave could transform journalism

September 30, 2009 |  4:26 pm

Google-wave

Google Wave lets users collaborate live on documents.

The tech world is awash with excitement for today's scheduled release of 100,000 invitations to preview Google Wave.

Seems like everyone is buzzing about how the collaborative Web tool will revolutionize how we do business, organize parties, manage projects with friends, cheat on homework and market brands (trust us, we've seen the news releases, plural). The term "Google Wave" has been on Twitter's top-trending list all day.

For the last two months, while we've been testing the Google Wave developer preview, we have been talking amongst ourselves about how this thing could change (or add to) what we do. So, here's a list of a few wild ideas we had for using Wave.

Collaborative reporting: You may notice that double bylines aren't very common. That's because trying to co-author a news story stinks.

The process usually involves one reporter talking to and researching a few things and another following a different set of sources and finally combining their findings toward the end. This can result in a mess of incompatible and unrelated research that gets either thrown out or somewhat-awkwardly wiggled in.

We're not going to e-mail our co-writers with every new lead and minute detail we dig up. But if we're sharing a virtual notebook, we can scan through ...

... or search the newest findings as they're logged, make comments and highlight our favorite bits.

Then, when it comes time to write, we can rearrange and discuss the story's flow in the same software. Thanks to the openness of Wave, collaborative pieces between bloggers could become more common.

Record and archive interviews: As reporters conduct interviews and frantically jot notes day after day, we start to develop our own shorthand. To outsiders, it looks like some sort of alien language.

If Google connects its Voice calling service to Wave, we might be able to easily insert call recordings, voicemails and text messages into our notes. Wave's founders, brothers Jens and Lars Rasmussen, have indicated in a past discussion that Google was looking at ways to connect many of its products with the Wave platform.

A third-party Wave extension called Ribbit lets users initiate conference calls inside of the program as well as the ability to call a designated phone number and have audio transcribed into the document.

Live editing: We love our editors (really, we do). But sometimes crucial things get changed that we miss in the final read-through and in rare cases, tweaked to inaccuracy.

Google Wave clearly marks updates to documents and lets you view a timeline of changes. Eventually -- once Google adds the feature -- users will be able to revert to a specific point in time. And the most passionate writers could watch live as editors tweak documents and respond to questions or changes.

Smarter story updates: Take a look at a breaking news blog like L.A. Now or the New York Times' The Lede. Scrolling down the page, you'll probably see the word "updated" in bold again and again.

Instead of creating a new post for each piece of news that's later uncovered on a breaking story, the blogs post an update to clarify which paragraphs have been changed or factually corrected.

That timeline feature could allow users to intuitively view previous versions of a post and see exactly what has been changed and why.

Discuss while you read: All of the Times blogs and many of stories on the website have areas where readers can log comments. These are just static message boards.

We get a lot of comments, saying, "That's stupid" or "You're totally wrong." That leads us to wonder, Uh, which part?

Wave lets users leave comments on particular paragraphs, sentences or words. This would allow readers to discuss passages as they're reading along and clarify which sections they're addressing.

Transparent writing process: Many readers say they're genuinely interested in how reporters string together a story. That fact was perhaps best evidenced on Sunday when curious readers gawked at the Associated Press' accidental publishing of a reporter's notes on the Roman Polanksi story.

What if we let readers watch the text as we write it? In our own testing, we found it to be a really fascinating peek into the writing habits and minds of our associates. It's also comforting to know that we're not the only ones who have trouble spelling the word "etiquette."

Maybe we can go one step further and let the observers comment throughout the writing process. Readers could help shape a story.

Instant polls: Every once in a while, bloggers like to poll their readers on topics. But gathering a decent sample size takes a while.

Presumably -- maybe once Google turns on compatibility with standard e-mail platforms -- people will practically live inside of the Wave software. We could blast out a poll using Google's Polly extension and instantly begin pulling in feedback.

Wiki news aggregator: Now we're drifting a little far out, but allowing readers to rearrange our homepage would be an interesting experiment. Of course, there's always the worry of a few unsavory links getting injected in there. Even Wikipedia isn't prone to destructive tricksters.

Got any ideas for how Wave could be used to change news gathering? How could it change your work? Let us know in the comments. (Sorry, no fancy in-line comments on this blog.)

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.

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