Riding the Google Wave

This morning I posted two tweets: "I'm having some great 'robust' discussions on #GoogleWave. I'm now able to finish @ianmcnicoll's sentences for him... in person & online;-)"


"I have a love/hate relationship with #GoogleWave. Getting sick of the "Everything's shiny, Cap'n." message, when clearly everything is NOT".

These two statements posted about an hour apart reflect some of my journey into the world of Google Wave.

My day-to-day work is all about collaboration - relying heavily on Skype and GoToMeeting as online tools to communicate with colleagues and clients distributed around Australia, and overseas; and working with groups of clinicians who are using an online application, the openEHR Clinical Knowledge Manager (CKM) for designing, reviewing and agreeing computable clinical content definitions, known as archetypes, for use in Electronic Health Records.

CKM is a relatively new and unique online application. Powered only by volunteers, it is harnessing the "collective intelligence" of clinicians and informaticians from all over the world to create open source archetypes, which underpin the European and international EHR standard, ISO13606.  Since its April launch, CKM is gaining momentum and has attracted 388 registered users from 49 countries, with 130 individuals actively involved in reviewing and agreeing the current 200+ archetypes - some modest success methinks.

The biggest challenge for me this year has been exploring how to productively engage with these busy clinicians and informaticians who are volunteering their time and expertise.  As a result, it was only early this year that I opened a Facebook account (after swearing I would never do it), and only this week I passed my 1000 tweet mark!  Learning to engage with these social networking tools and communities has certainly given me enormous insight re how we might be able to take CKM forward.

The core CKM team comprises Ian McNicoll (@ianmcnicoll) in Glasgow, Sebastian Garde (@gardes) in Dusseldorf and myself in Melbourne and we meet formally using Skype and GoToMeeting twice a week, which is not always the easiest way to collaborate.  One of the next challenges for CKM  is to nurture the design and initial creation of the archetypes collaboratively - effectively a sandpit or archetype 'nursery'.  Our main question is how to provide an online environment where interested international clinicians could share their time and resources effectively... and then we heard that Google Wave was coming!

Receiving that invitation was very exciting.  This was immediately followed by the let-down phase because, of course, you have to wave with someone!  And then the dilemma of "What to do with it?" I found a number of public waves where there were multitudes of people joining and then... well, nothing.  No-one seemed to have a clue what to do with it!  And the few Waves that were very active seemed to become quite chaotic very quickly, resulting in confusion rather than collaboration.

Once Ian, Sebastian and I all had our Wave accounts, we had an opportunity to play - sending asynchronous messages, using the Piratify and Flippy bots to do silly things to the blips and co-writing in real-time - hence my ability to finish off Ian's sentences for him;-).  More recently, we started to find some real uses for Wave which our usual email, Skype and GoToMeeting couldn't do.  We created a number of separate Waves, each related to a particular CKM requirement that we were trying to thrash out.  In fact, only this morning we managed to come to an agreement on a particularly curly one - an issue that we hadn't been able to resolve through a number of verbal discussions.  The ability to focus on one comment (blip) to get a common understanding has been very useful.

And then there was a recent twitter discussion that I had with @psweetman and @JFahrni about allergies - 3 strangers from UK, US & Australia using Twitter to try to come to a common understanding!  Jerry took the initial tweets (-what is the collective noun for a group of tweets?) and combined them in his blog.  While we could now see them all together, instead of fragmented 140 character snippets, it was still difficult to engage with each other.  So I took the blog and 'Waved' it - created a private Wave in which all 3 of us could participate.  The discussion that ensued was much more effective, building on previous comments and thrashing out specific points. It worked pretty well, including some bonus tips on where to visit next time I go to Las Vegas!

It is this collaborative aspect of Google Wave I'm beginning to love - it is really quite compelling.  Other tools, even used in combination don't cut it. Yet the down side is that Wave is still pretty clunky and I feel that I have seen more than my fair share of the "Everything's Shiny Cap'n" messages as the Wave crashes - hence the frustration evident in my second tweet.

The reality is that you just can't collaborate like this in other media.  Google Wave has enormous potential as it is refined and is extended. I look forward to exploring if and how we can incorporate Wave into our archetype development, especially now with the opportunity to federate Wave servers.  Perhaps it will work, perhaps not - but I have a glass half full kind of view at present.  Will keep you posted...