Google Wave Will Revolutionize Collaborative Genealogy

Google is going through a process of inviting 100,000 “early adopters” of to their new offering, Wave. It may be a few months before just anyone can sign up.

To see what’s in store, you could watch the 80 minute video that they admit themselves is “loooong.” Or, you could watch their 8 minute video, with a brief summary of the product.

Google Wave is a tremendously powerful platform that will change the way genealogy and family history are done. Users of Wave create “waves,” which are something between conversations, e-mail messages, collaborative authoring sessions, video and picture sharing, blog authoring, and so many more things.

The key technology involved in Wave, though, that makes it better than every other available product for collaborative authoring is that it allows for near real-time communication. If I send you an e-mail, I have to wait for you to read it. If I write a blog entry, and I’m collaborating with another author, I have to save my draft, then tell them to take a look. Even if I’m “instant messaging,” I still spend a good portion of the time waiting for a response and staring at a message that say something like, “So-and-so is typing.” But with Google Wave, I can see my correspondant type at the same time that I’m typing. The conversation is not serial, but parallel — we are both talking at the same time. It’s more like an actual conversation. When we work together on a document, we can each make edits wherever in the document we need to, and this can happen simultaneously as fast as we can type.

So why will this matter to genealogists? If you are working with a distant cousin on a difficult problem in the family history, you can put together your evidence and be able to evaluate it, and each of you edit it at any time. You can also roll back the conversation to any point in the history of it. You can capture the conversation at a specific point and export it to another Wave. You can add other members of the Wave, and they can see the whole history of the evolution of the conversation or document. Images can be added through drag and drop. The system can perform simultaneous word-by-word translations into a number of languages. The contextual spell checker knows that “icland is and icland” should probably read “Iceland is an island.”

For genealogists, this will be a powerful environment for working together on common research, for working on the bylaws and standing rules of the local genealogical society, and for authoring real-time collaborative blogs. Don’t be surprised if the 2010 or 2011 NGS Conference Blogs are written in Google Wave and then posted using the Bloggy robot in a standard blog format.

Google Wave will also be a way for professional genealogists to share the notes they make on the way to their reports with their clients.

And don’t be surprised if, when working with a researcher searching for Grahams in the same county in Southern West Virginia you are, you find yourself not bothering with e-mail, but instead invite them to discuss it over Google Wave.