Google Wave

Google announced yesterday a new offering called Google Wave.  There is an excellent article at TechChrunch that gives a complete overview.  All I can say is: THIS IS HUGE PEOPLE. The concept of Google Wave, the underlying idea is exactly the right step that the web and the internet needs to take. It’s a combination of Email, Instant Messaging, Twitter, Transparency, Collaboration, Wiki, Media sharing, and so much more.  Oh, and it’s an Open API and Open Source to boot.

If you’ve ever talked tech with me in the last three years and we’ve had the discussion about what is next in technology, then we’ve had a very similar discussion about the concepts behind Google Wave.  I’m not claiming Google has once again stolen my idea, but what I will claim is that there clearly is a need for this type of product that I saw and google saw and others saw as well.

Two things in particular I want to call your attention to that make Google Wave a huge idea:

1). Adhoc groups… What adhoc grouping really does for you is to let people create internet groups as easily as they create real world groups.  Think of it this way… when you walk into your work place break room and two other people walk in and the three of you start talking, you have created a group.  It’s fast in the real world, why can it not be like that in the internet world? For most of the internet when you want to form a group and start working together there’s a fairly large investment in creating the meta systems the group needs: setting up a mailing list, setting up forums, setting up a media store, setting up a user database, etc etc.  It’s a pain in the ass really, and it make setting up a group fairly non-trivial.  To some degree, Yahoo Groups and Google Groups automates a lot of that, but then you still have to go through the effort of getting people to join etc.

What Google Wave does is to make group creation simple and almost instantaneous.  Basically, you create a group by dragging a bunch of contacts together and off you go.  You can immediately begin discussion, expand the group, whatever.  Additionally, if you need other tools for that group like a map or a document or some other thing, you can add a widget or a robot to participate in that  group and boom, you have more functionality to fill the groups need.

2) The second feature that is huge for me is transparency.  Transparency is the notion behind Twitter in that you broadcast snippets of your activities out to the world and everyone can see what you are doing.  This is the beginning of transparency though.  To take it further you need to automate transparency such that as you do things, they automatically are published.  Of course, this brings up privacy concerns, but I think there are simple ways to solve this.

I know that Wave has some level of transparency, but it’s still to early to tell how much.  I suspect that even if this is an opt in version of transparency, like Twitter, that soon there will be robots and widgets (the extensions to Wave) that will automate a lot of this functionality.

The point is, though, that transparecny can be a huge social tool… but more importantly it could be a huge business tool.  And the company that sees this is going to get a huge edge over the company that does not.

Anyways, that’s my thoughts on Google Wave.  You should efinately check it out.

Do They Flow?

Lately I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about what environmental factors go into creating the perfect work/space environment for a person.  This in part may have been introduced by Eric Spiegel over at Datamation posting a couple of articles recently asking Where’s Your Coding Happy Place and Finding The Coding Zone: Your Perfect Trifecta.  In the articles he discusses where is the best place for him to code and what external stimuli facilitates that.

In User Interface design there is a concept called Flow.  Flow represents that “in the zone” state about which Spiegel talks.  It is this perfect state of unity with ones work.  It’s a wonderful place to be and when we can achieve it we are at our most productive and do our best work. The problem with Flow or “being in the zone” is that it is amazingly easy to interrupt.  A ringing phone, a coworker asking a question, or piece of email can all break you ot of your Flow and completely disrupt the brialliant work you’ve been doing.  And once Flow is interrupted it is fairly hard to recover again.

Breaking flow is really easy to do and there are a number of pieces written about things that do this.  Just about any kind of interruption or distraction will do it.  In a User Interface, for example, a popup dialog box or an animated paper clip can be enough to completely destroy the user’s Flow.  It’s considered bad UI Design to create activities that break flow.

What is much harder to quantify is what exactly does it take to achieve flow?  This is ultimately the question that Spiegel is asking in his article about “The Coding Zone.” A lot of people go about achieving Flow in different ways: turn off the phone, close the email application, close the door, blast the music, have food and drinks at hand, turn the light on, turn the lights off, work at 3am in the morning, whatever it takes.  And a lot of people know what it takes for them to find Flow.

For me, Flow is about comfort and ignoring the rest of the world.

First and foremost I need to be comfortable.  A good chair, appropriate lighting, keyboard perfectly position in relation to seat.  All these things factor into comfort for me.  In particular, lighting is very important.  I’m one of those “likes to program in a cave of darkness” person.  Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people forced to work in a cubicle with overhead florescent lights.  I have managed to convince my fellow cube mates to keep the overhead lights off and rely on the personal cubicle light, but sometimes this takes a little arm twisting.

As to ignoring the rest of the world, well that’s fairly easy: turn up the music so you don’t hear outside sounds, don’t answer the phone (unplug it if necessary), and turn off the interrupting applications.  I’m pretty adepts at just ignoring the Instant Messages, Emails and Phone Calls that cross my desk.  I’ve also minimized the interruptions that they present… for example, email plays a simple low volume sound for me, but nothing else.  It lets me know it’s there, but does not draw me away from what I am doing.

Flow allows us to work at our highest, most efficient levels.  So why do our employers fail to set us up to achieve flow?  Instead of helping us to find our “zone” they do everything in the power to surround us with distractions.  In my workplace I have to dress a certain way, I have to be there at a certain time, I have to work in a cubicle listening the the minutia of my coworkers.  None of these things is helping me find my Flow.  In fact, all of these things are actively hindering me from doing my best work.

Let me repeat that: My company is actively hindering me from doing my best work.

Kind of scary when you think about it.  You would think that for a company, quality is the most important thing.  Yet from the actions of most companies, that’s hardly apparent.  In my workplace, quality is second to how the company appears to the outside world.  Perhaps that’s the nature of business, but it really just speaks to a lack of quality.  That makes me sad.

So, let me leave you with a question… but instead of asking how you find the best Flow like Spiegel does, I’m going to ask you this: Is your company intersted in quality or something else? Do they encourage flow, or do they discourage it?  Do they Flow?

The Games I Play

I like to play video games… really, who doesn’t.  Thus, I thought I would share with you a few of the games I am playing now…

First, I am primarily playing Warhammer Online.  At least I would be if I ever had any time.  It’s a fun game in the World of Warcraft vein with a bit more focus on PvP.  Normally I don’t play PvP, but I’ve really taken to it in WAR.

Also, I play Team Fortress 2 from time to time whenever I need some mindless “blow stuff up” outlet.  I still find this one of the most enjoyable and balanced Team FPS games out there.  On the otherhand, it’s no Tribes 2.

I am hotly anticipating a few upcoming games.  Like everyone else on the planet I’m waiting for Blizzard to release Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3, but I’m also really interested to see what the new unannounced MMO property they are workin on is.  It’s supposedly an entire new setting for them, so this could be interesting.  Likewise, The Old Republic MMO is on my watch list.  I was a big fan of Star Wars Galaxies when it came out before they reveled their stupid Force unlock process.  Pretty much gave up that game when the holocrons came out.  I’m more hopeful that KOTOR MMO will be more interesting.  And we cannot forget Bioshock 2.  Bioshock 1 was simply one of the best written games ever and I highly recommend it.  I’m eagerly awaiting Bioshock 2 and seeing if it lives up to the first one.

Finally, let me tell you about The Secret World.  This is a new MMO based on conspiracy and mythology that looks really interesting.  It has a great deal of potential with lots of puzzles, mystery and dark horror, all of which I love to get involved with.  I have taken part in a few of the puzzles that the company has been running to build interest and press in the product and found them enjoyable.  And I have a beta key already, so I’m looking forward to playing the early release of the game.

So that’s it.  That’s what I’m playing, that’s what I’m waiting to play.  If you’d like to play a game with me in WAR or TF2 just let me know and I can share the details.

Dear Jennifer

Happy Anniversary!

It's the First of May

Happy Jonathan Coulton Day.  Go buy yourself a robot.