Some days ago, I managed to get access to Google Wave; this highly anticipated, widely praised service that will revolutionize online collaboration and interaction. Well, I’m not that impressed, to be honest. It comes across like an advanced, non-linear chat programme of some sorts, which allows you to post different forms of media content and to write responses to earlier posts. Leaving aside the myth of a collaboration revolution for now, this sort of functionality may be perfect for online debates…
Getting readers involved
Getting readers and users involved (“engaged”) is one of the key performance indicators and objectives for every media company that tries to push its content out via the Internet. Currently, the most comment way to get this sort of involvement going is to invite comments, which hopefully develop into a debate amongst readers or viewers.
While I fully agree that the interactive, democratic nature of the Internet has great potential to revitalize public debate and discourse, the current state of reader comments, for example on news websites, doesn’t seem to meet the expectations yet.
The current state of online debates
Let’s leave aside the quality of the comments for now and come back to Google Wave instead. I think a general problem with online debates based on reader comments is the way they are displayed on the websites. They are simply listed, one after the other, at the bottom of each article.
One problem with this is that debates are not linear. In other words, the argument doesn’t flow neatly from one point to the next. It jumps around. One reader may respond to an earlier point, the argument may split into several branches. A simple list of comments doesn’t reflect these dynamics.
A second problem is that it’s difficult for readers to comprehend how the debate has developed so far. I oftentimes find myself too lazy to go through everything that’s been said so that I can make a meaningful contribution.
Is Google Wave an answer?
Google Wave may be an example how both of these problems could be resolved. Comments can be inserted at any stage and branch of the argument. And the “Playback” function allows all readers to visualize how the debate as emerged.
As far as I know, it will be possible to interface with Google Wave via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, which allow one application to use another application’s data). Can news websites harness or learn from the power of Google Wave?