Monday, 1 June 2009

"Everything's going my way"* (ramblings on Google Wave)

* The title of this post is just because I had "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" stuck in my brain at the time I wrote this!

During my PhD (2003-2007) I developed a system called "The Intelligent Book" (public demo returning soon). One aspect of it is a collaboratively edited textbook that let you embed graphical gadgets into the pages -- circuits etc -- and as students worked with them, intelligent components on the server would interact with them, add annotations, and offer their advice right back into the page. And it all used lightweight open protocols (the communication was around XML-RPC and Javascript), but allowed the graphical components to be applets because doing graphical stuff in HTML was tough back then. It even used a message format describing changes to an XML document.

In 2007, I noticed some of the movement within Sakai (an open source Courseware Management System) was towards a similar easily-edited gadget-embeddable structure. A book chapter I've written -- chapter 13 of this book -- discusses some of the economic effects that I think are pushing learning products in this direction.

Last week, Google announced Google Wave. This isn't aimed at education -- they're pitching it as a grand attempt to replace email, instant messaging, and all other forms of Web communication (good luck!). But within it, it has collaboratively edited content, with graphical gadgets that can be embedded at the client, and intelligent robots that can be embedded at the server. The communication is about changes to XML documents, and the robots mark changes back up into the original page...

Of course, there was more to the thesis of the Intelligent Book than just gadgets, robots, and editable pages -- and of course Google Wave solves many different and bigger issues than I've described here. But it's always quite reassuring to see commercial software endeavours heading in similar directions to ones I've advocated in my research, even if only in small ways and in unexpected fields. Makes me feel as if maybe I'm not just a lone nutcase baying in the wilderness after all.

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