Thursday, October 15, 2009

Google Wave vs. Google Docs

I've been a GDocs user for a while now, in great part because I like its commitment to collaboration. I even have students use it to peer review papers and turn in papers to me. (Reactions have been generally positive.)

So as I begin using the alpha version of Google Wave, I've been trying to figure out where it fits. After all, Docs and Wave do seem to overlap in at least one function, collaborating on documents. Here are some tentative thoughts I posted to my Twitter feed a couple of days ago:
  • GDocs has better readout of revision history, but Wave alerts you to unseen changes and puts your collaborators across the top.
  • GDocs embeds comments; Wave splits wave sections (blips) when you comment on a portion of the wave. Document vs. Hyperforum.
  • Wave has stronger mashup potential because it doesn't closely imitate conventional docs. But it is weak now because extensions are scarce.
  • GDocs is better for working with documents in more structured, turn-taking collaborations. Wave may be better in agile or synchronized collaboration.
  • GDocs kills email pingpong (sending versions of documents as attachments, which leads to version control issues). Perhaps Wave kills the idea of documents?
Let's think of it this way. GDocs adds capabilities to the word processors we all know. In fact, GDocs' button bar looks a lot like older versions of MS Word. It uploads Word documents. It does Word- or Works-like things. It starts with the molar unit of the document and adds collaboration.

Wave starts with collaboration, and adds capabilities to produce different sorts of genres within that collaborative paradigm. Documents are just one.

So Wave will have a higher learning curve (as I can attest) and will be less specialized for producing documents. Consequently, it's not as well honed for producing traditional documents. But it's a more general collaborative tool.

As Wave is developed, I expect that we'll see Google giving its API a workout to increase interoperability with GDocs and other services. But I'm not sure if we'll see a collapse between the services, which are still doing rather different things.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Does TIMN imply developing the so-far least favored (+N?) option: networked non-profit cooperatives?"

David Ronfeldt, about whose TIMN framework I recently blogged, has some thoughts about how a TIMN (Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks) analysis might characterize different kinds of governance. At the end, he points toward further possible work, including this:
Can TIMN help assess what seems to be ideologically amiss with liberalism and conservatism in the United States? Have both moved too far from being soundly triformist? Is one of them turning too tribalist (even monoformist) for its own and the country’s good? And what about a current policy issue — healthcare — that has liberals and conservatives all riled up, at odds over whether to go for a public (+I) or private (+M) option? Does TIMN imply developing the so-far least favored (+N?) option: networked non-profit cooperatives? I’m still working on this part, and I’ll post a separate announcement when it’s ready to be inserted here. Maybe next week.
I'm looking forward to this development. Either way, I like that this theoretical framework can become a tool to think beyond the current twinned either-or fallacy that the health care debate has become in this cycle.

"It’s decentralized now."

Earlier this year, I blogged about the health care town halls and TEA parties, suggesting that the health care protesters were leveraging a hybrid top-down, bottom-up approach in which independent groups or individuals make lateral connections online, come together for protests in which they agree with specific claims (although perhaps not reasons or warrants), and make personal connections at those protests that allow them to scale further. I pointed to Manuel Castells' work and the netwar literature as ways of understanding this phenomenon, and I concluded:
I'll end by stating again that in examining this development, I am not taking a side - even if there were a side to take. Protesters - of the WTO, of Social Security reform, of health care reform, etc. - don't necessarily have a coherent side, any more than federations of knowledge workers do. In describing this tactical development, I'm not endorsing any of these groups, any more than I would be endorsing Nazi Germany by analyzing the Blitzkrieg.
The Blitzkrieg, of course, was a revolution in military tactics built around tight communication between air and land power. Although we have negative associations with the term Blitzkrieg, the basic tactic is neutral - and has become the foundation for modern conventional warfare, including the US' AirLand Battle conceptual framework.

So I was interested to click through an NYT article today and see an account of another protest, one very different from the health care protests and TEA parties, but one that had much in common with them tactically. The article: "Gay Rights Marchers Press Cause in Washington." Here are some representative quotes; I've added emphasis.
“I think this march represents the passing of the torch,” said Corey Johnson, 27, an activist and blogger for the gay-themed Web site “The points of power are no longer in the halls of Washington or large metropolitan areas. It’s decentralized now. You have young activists and gay people from all walks of life converging on Washington not because a national organization told them to, but because they feel the time is now.”
Indeed, the marchers were enraged that a national organization was not protesting:
The rally on Sunday and a black-tie gala on Saturday hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights advocacy group, made for a glaring dichotomy. Mr. Obama, who spoke at the dinner, had the crowd on its feet reiterating his pledge to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and declaring his commitment to gay rights as “unwavering.”
The President had no statement, and Rep. Barney Frank dismissed the protest. And

Organizers of the march encountered considerable opposition from within gay political circles and from those who argued that it was hastily planned and would divert resources from campaigns at the state level.

This disjuncture between a national advocacy group and the marchers is a big difference with the health care protesters, who enjoyed varying levels of support from conservative groups. On the other hand, the national organization that might have supported the gay rights marchers under a Republican administration has instead sought an accomodationist footing with a nominally friendly Democratic one. When the White House next changes hands, we might see these differences reverse.

In any case, I think we'll see more hybrid and/or bottom-up demonstrations, tying in more groups and claims, and developing in sophistication and tactics as they proceed. I think we'll also see these groups drawing on each others' tactics in an ideology-free way, just as Blitzkrieg became AirLand Battle.