Be bold!

Thursday, January 7, 2010 | 3:43 PM

There's a simple, powerful, and fun technique which leads to a better Google Wave experience for you and your friends: edit other people's content! You can edit any message in a wave, not just those you started.

Waves are often shared among a group of people with a common goal: perhaps planning a party or recording meeting notes. When working together, people often hesitate to edit the words of others, especially when they're not the document's original author. But this restraint can be harmful to collaboration. Instead of adding a reply to a wave, ask yourself if everyone might be happy if you just changed the text you're replying to. You can edit a message by double-clicking or by selecting "Edit this message" from the menu at its top-right corner.

For example, your friends might appreciate you discreetly fixing their spelling mistakes rather than pointing them out. You can also delete messages. If a short back-and-forth has resulted in a quick decision, why not replace the conversation with the outcome and justification rather than make everyone else read through the dialogue?

Gardening is a term we use to mean summarising, deleting old content and generally tidying a wave up. Gardening keeps a wave at its most fruitful. As discussions lead to resolutions it's often helpful to weed out the old comments, replacing them with the final result. The original text will always be available in playback but pruning the conversation will make it easier for new participants to follow, and for you too when you next open the wave. You needn't be afraid of trimming some text in an attempt to make the wave more useful. A wave is a shared space and your friends or colleagues will silently thank you for cultivating it.

Wikipedia is a another example of the power of working together. Wikipedia editing guidelines encourage users to be bold. Wikis develop faster if everyone jumps in to add content, fix problems, and tend to the articles. It requires a little politeness and a willingness to let others improve upon your contributions, but it works! Wikipedia encourages you to do what you think is right and accept that others will do the same. This "ask forgiveness rather than permission" policy makes a huge difference to the quality of an article and how fast it can evolve. Openness maximises the potential for collaboration, a huge gain over restricting permissions "just in case" someone acts maliciously.

A great example of this principle in Google Wave is when you and your friends are collaborating on a list. Say you're taking a holiday next week and your friend starts a wave that includes list of things to take. You could make a reply suggesting additions to the list – or you could be bold and add your items directly to the list. Your friends will see the change highlighted when they next view the wave and can always take the items back out again if they disagree. Most often, though, you've both saved your friend some work and kept your wave neatly tended.

We edit each other's waves all the time while working on Google Wave. Because we think it's such a powerful technique, we're working on features to make gardening easier. To begin, we're adding a more obvious "Edit" button so it's easier to get started. Coming soon is a "restore" button, which winds back a wave to a previous state. This will allow you to revert recent changes in case someone (even you!) messes up a wave. Other features on our roadmap will help you organise the content in a wave and emphasise recently edited portions. We're also working on more granular access controls for waves, like allowing some participants to read a wave but not edit it. While openness and trust is best for collaboration, sometimes you really do need limitations so we're working on flexible ways to express this.