Modern Software Experience


Google Wave Genealogy

Google Wave

There is no doubt that Google Wave is impacting communication. It is a product, a platform and a protocol. It sure is an interesting product, and one that is influencing competing products even before it is public.

Wave combines the features of Google Mail and Google Docs and then some. It can be used for instant messaging, as email, as a wiki, for collaborative document editing and more. Wave features the tagging and extensive search capabilities that make Google Mail so popular.

All that is nice, but it is not without drawbacks. Wave is a tad slow, it is rather memory-hungry, and it definitely takes some getting used to. You might even call it confusing. On top of that, Wave is really still in preview, with rough edges and features that worked yesterday failing today. Wave may even require an occasional browser restart.

…Wave is particularly well suited to social activities such as genealogy research.

genealogy waving

So why should genealogist bother to learn about this fledging platform? First of all, simply because it is another and particularly versatile communication tool in your toolbox. But most of all, because Wave is particularly well suited to social activities such as genealogy research.

Google Wave has various features, such as tagging and translation between various languages, that make it attractive to genealogical researchers. This text does not discuss such admittedly useful and appealing extras, but focuses on how using Wave is fundamentally different from other communication tools.

rich text

We mail ahnenlists because an ahnenlist is an easy to understand format. We can include an ahnenlist as plain text in the body of an email, or attach it a file in some widely-supported richer format, such as Rich Text Format (*.RTF), a web page (*.PDF) or Portable Document Format (*.PDF). Neither option is ideal; plain text is not as easy to read as rich text, and attachments are not immediately visible.

Google’s Lars Rasmussen has called Wave what email would be like if it were invented today - and modern email supports rich text. When you share an ahnenlist via Wave, you don’t have to choose between rich text in an attachment or plain text in the wave, you can simply share rich text in the wave itself.
You can in fact share a lot more than rich text, including pictures, but the point is not how much can share, but that you can share rich content in the body itself, which is considerably more natural and convenient way of sharing a document.


You can use Wave to have a instant messaging session with one distant family member, then use the information you just learned to quickly correct an ahnenlist you mailed to another, and make a note that you expect a few more changes and additions on a document you are working on with another researcher.

Wave is a synergistic merging of these capabilities into a single, richer experience: waving.

That particular scenario does take advantage of Wave’s capabilities, but in a very traditional way; it uses the instant messaging, shared email and collaborative document editing capabilities separately. Using Wave that way does take away the need to switch between different products, but otherwise this scenario is hardly an improvement on using three separate but familiar products to do the same thing.

The power of Wave is not that you can message, mail, and collaborate from a single interface. It is easy enough to do all three from a single desktop or from within a single browser already. Wave is a synergistic merging of these capabilities into a single, richer experience: waving.

the Google Wave Way

Let’s see what the scenario could look like when we try to take advantage of Wave’s abilities, when we try to do the same things Wave’s way.
A considerably more wavy approach would be to show the genealogy inside the instant messaging wave, and update it together while you are exchanging messages, to get immediate feedback on any typos or misunderstanding. Then, when the genealogy has been updated, share the result with the other distant family member by adding them to the already existing wave and ask for their additions, and finally share that same wave with the other researcher looking into the same branches. There is no need to tell that researchers what changed in your exchange with your relations; your contact can use use the wave’s playback feature to see what has changed recently.

the Wavy Way

That is genealogy research the Wavy way; instead of separate instant messaging, emailing and note making, you make just one Wave and use it for all of that by adding all the contacts as participants, taking advantage of its versioning and playback feature.

The Wavy Way obviates the need copy and paste from one conversation to another, forward mails, and perhaps copy back into yet another conversation. That saves time and avoids all errors that may result from incomplete or out-of-order copying. All parties involved participate in the same single wave.


2010-04-24 ahnentafel

Replaced ahnentafel with ahnenlist.