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NOV. 19 - 25, 2009




Killer App 3.0? MICHAEL RIDLEY Google Wave. It’s hard to avoid hearing about this new application from Google. For something still in early beta, it’s being widely viewed as “the next big thing.” So what does it mean to be the next big thing? Advances in technology are measured not so much by what we do as the tools we use to do it: The killer apps. The killer apps of the past are Lotus 1-2-3. (look it up on Wikipedia, it was very cool back in the day), Netscape (browser 1.0), MSN (text becomes viral and communal), and Google search (technology becomes a verb). Facebook (voyeurism goes pro) is the most recent example. Is Google Wave next? It’s challenging to describe what Wave is. I’m not going to try; see the videos on YouTube. However, it seems to me Wave is currently suffering from the “horseless carriage” syndrome; people are trying to define it and understand its value by referencing some preceding application or technology. Wave is “live blogging in groups” or “texting with multimedia.” We understand the future by positioning it within our past. The difficultly is we actually


use the new tools in ways that mirror the past (for a wonderful view on this see Carolyn Marvin’s When Old Technologies Were New). Rant warning. Email. I am a massive user of email; a considerable amount of the work I do is done through email. My inbox and folders are my work. And yet email really sucks as a way

to interact, store, share, and manage work. It is such a blunt instrument and yet we enthusiastically use it over and over again for the most inappropriate tasks. So this is where Wave comes in again. Think of it now as a “wiki on steroids.”It is a shared, collaborative space where groups can work together on creating, sharing, and advancing things (documents,

video, multimedia, discussions, meetings, whatever) and then publish them (or release them). It may very well allow me to dump email. That’s my horseless carriage version of Wave: better email. BTW Google is introducing Wave the same way it did with Gmail, with “invites.” People were invited by Google to participate as early adopters and then they in turn have a limited number of invites to allow their friends to sign up. Brilliant marketing. Everyone feels special and the “invites” are widely sought after. Cool kids have invites; the not-so-cool-kids are chasing them. We could all learn a lot from this. In the age of abundance, the perception (if not the reality) of scarcity is the way to attract mass attention. Marshall McLuhan said “First we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” We are relentless tool builders. And yet, having built those tools, we rarely try to assess or understand how profoundly those tools affect or even limit the way we perform or operate. Tools give, but tools take away as well. The absolute best example of this is literacy (the alphabet; reading and writing). It’s a veritable intellectual prison

(but that’s a rant for another day and another column). The killer apps of the past have changed us both subtly and profoundly. We think and act differently because of them. The price of Wave or any new tool is adopting its paradigm and bending to its will. And so, those with invites are trying to make sense of it all. Some have already packed it in and moved on, others are still a bit puzzled by it (me), and many see something interesting lurking inside this thing (me again). Google Wave is the new kid on the block. Savvy marketing is making it the buzz around the net. And since Google has quite the track record, it is always worth paying attention to what they are doing. Of course Google has flops too. Remember Orkut? Didn’t think so. The search for killer app 3.0 continues, and with apologies to Stevie Smith, I’m still waving not drowning. Michael Ridley is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Librarian at the University of Guelph. Contact him at mridley@ or cio.

The University of Ottawa: among Canada’s Top 10 research universities.* Collaborating with some of the country’s top minds in the heart of the nation’s capital.

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November 19th 2009  

The Ontarion`s 10th issue.