Google Wave has the potential to be used for just about anything, but Wave's best real-world use boils down to this: it helps a group get things done together. Here's how to manage a group project in Wave.
Wave's invitations have been rolling out steadily over the last few weeks, so you and your co-workers might have already gotten some Wave love. If so, let's take a look at how you can manage a project in the real world, even given Wave's current unfinished state.
Background: Over the last two months, I've co-managed a large-scale group project with a team of six people in Wave: the production of Adam's and my new book, The Complete Guide to Google Wave. We didn't write the book in Wave, mind you — but we did manage the project in Wave, where we collaborated on everything behind the scenes, from the book's style guide, to its pricing plan and to iterations of its cover design. Whether you're writing a book or planning a weekend trip, here are a few techniques you and your workgroup mates should know that make Wave a great project management tool.
Shared Tags and Saved Searches
To keep all the project-specific waves into a single bucket, the first thing all the members of your group should do is agree on a project-specific tag. Unlike email folders or Gmail's labels, Wave's tags are visible to all wave participants, like Flickr or Delicious tags. So if you decide your project's tag is "Holiday plans", everyone tags project waves the same and can find waves based on that tag.
To easily see if there are new updates on the project's waves, save a search for the tag. In this case, search for tag:"Holiday plans" and click the "Save Search" button on the bottom of the search panel. (You can even assign a colour to the saved search for some visual flair.) Once that's done, you have a project-specific "inbox" (so to speak) in the Searches area of the Navigation panel.
In the screenshot at the top of this article, you can see that for the book project, the agreed-upon tag was "cwg", and in my Wave client, it was coloured grey.
You can even break down project tags even further by combining them. For example, you could tag waves specific to hotel research "Holiday plans" and "hotels". Then, a search for tag:"Holiday plans" tag:hotels will narrow down the results further. Here's more on saved searches and Wave filters.
Choose to Reply Below a Blip, Inline or Edit the Blip
Unlike email, where you can either reply to an entire message or chop it up into quotes and reply inline (which is a tedious and manual process), in Wave you can do either of those things — OR just edit the message that someone else wrote, as if it were a Google Document. This ability to co-author a single message and see past revisions of that message in one place is what sets Wave apart.
In a public wave situation where anyone can edit anything that anyone else has written, it can be total chaos. But within a trusted circle of co-editors, revising a single blip together — and having the option to have threaded inline conversations about that content as well — makes getting work done much easier.
For example, if someone asks a series of questions, others can reply inline like email (but more conveniently). But if someone's drafting a document and needs help filling in the holes and keeping it updated, others can just dive in and hit the Edit button, like Wikipedia. In the screenshot here, you can see a message that has had two authors (Jon and me) but also contains inline replies.
Wave's three modes of interacting with and editing content — replies, inline replies, and co-editing blips — makes its collaborative abilities in a single context very powerful. Here's more on the three ways to update a wave.
Sometimes in a group conversation, you want to direct a private reply to a single member or subset of a group about a larger issue — and Wave makes that very easy. Inside the context of a single wave, you can click on the timestamp drop-down and choose "Private Reply" to say something to a subset of that wave's participants that no one else can see. This ability comes in extremely handy whenever someone has something to add that's only meant for a few people's eyes. These private conversations with you appear inline on the wave that everyone else can see — so it can feel weird, like you're talking behind the backs of others but right in front of them — however, not everyone can see the private back-and-forth in wave. Here's more on how to send a reply only certain people can see in Wave.
Playback and Wave Forking
Since Wave is more a document collaboration tool than an email replacement, its contents are living things that go through a series of change and revisions over time. Wave's playback feature lets you move forward and back through those revisions. If a wave has changed too much, and you want to restore an older version of it, Wave makes that possible. While you're in playback mode, in an older revisions, from the timestamp drop-down, choose "Copy Wave" to create a new wave that contains that old revision. (Currently you can't restore a wave itself to an older version of itself; you have to copy that version to a new wave.)
Helpful Bots, Gadgets and Add-ons
There are tons of Wave bots and gadgets out there, and the ones that will help with your project depend on what you're doing. But there are a few that could help in almost any situation.
The XMPP Lite Bot: One of the issues with adopting Google Wave into your workflow is the whole "yet another inbox" problem. If you're working on a project in Wave but forget to check it every day, you can get notifications of wave updates via IM. The XMPP Lite bot can GChat you as project waves get updated. To use it, add the bot to your contacts (its Wave ID is [email protected]), and then add that same contact to your GTalk contacts list. Add the bot to any wave you want IM notifications from, and click the Subscribe button.
The Yes/No/Maybe Gadget: One of the simplest and most useful Wave gadgets available, the Yes/No/Maybe gadget makes asking a simple question of a group and tallying responses dead-simple. To use it, type a question into your wave that have the possible answers, Yes, No, or Maybe. Then, click on the Yes/No/Maybe button on your Wave toolbar. (It's got three small boxes — green, red and yellow.) Then, wave participants can just click on their response and add a little note by clicking the "Set my status" link.
Google Gears and a modern browser (or a plug-in for IE): The advantage of using a web application is that you don't have to install software other than a web browser onto your system to access it. That advantage comes with some caveats in Wave. Google Gears, the browser add-on that ships with Chrome but that you have to download and install for Firefox and Safari, isn't required for Wave, but adds essential functionality: the ability to drag and drop files into Wave. The bad news for Mac users is that Gears is still(!) not available for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (why, Google, why?) and it doesn't come with the Mac build of Chrome, either. However, if you're on a PC and you want to easily share files in Wave, you need Gears. (In fact, Wave is speedier and more stable in Google Chrome than Firefox and Safari, so if you're on a PC it's worth using Chrome for Wave.)
Additionally, Wave doesn't play nice with vanilla Internet Explorer. Since it relies on new and emerging web technologies that IE doesn't support yet, if you try to access Wave in IE, you'll get prompted to use another browser or use the Chrome Frame IE add-on. This might throw a wrench into your plans to collaborate with co-workers in IT lockdown, without the ability to install an alternate browser or IE add-on on their office computer.
While Wave doesn't have classic project management tools like to-do lists or Gantt charts built-in, it's great for a project-specific real-time messaging and collaborating. (Plus, to-do lists and more are no doubt on the way in the form of Wave extensions.)
Have you done anything in Wave besides chat it up with a few strangers? Got any Wave advice, tips, or insights? Let us know in the comments.