COMMENTARY

Google Wave could crush the competition

The tool has the potential to take collaboration to new heights

On Fox’s “24” TV series, protagonist Jack Bauer always gets the bad guy because some computer genius, usually Chloe, is able to connect myriad U.S. government datasets with on-scene intell and shred any encryption known to man in tension-building minutes.

To most federal information technology professionals, such scenarios are clearly fiction. Opening links, sockets and bridges among agencies and organizations is hard to do. Without going into detail, anyone who has tried to widely share public-key infrastructure credentials is nodding in agreement. Applications don’t talk to one another, data types mix badly, and sharing is impeded.

In my Oct. 20, 2009, column, titled “The 'browser mafia' must lead the IT revolution,” I argued for an aggressive approach to transforming federal IT. To expand on that, I have come up with some simple bylaws.

  1. Do everything in the browser
  2. Sharing is more important than not sharing
  3. Done is better than fancy
  4. Be a grown-up, but think like a child
  5. Some things shouldn’t be digital and
  6. Whenever possible, go beyond text.

Why is it important to think like this? Mostly because the cloud is gaining mass and structure. Also, an increasing number of us are using a promising new collaboration service called Google Wave. Finally, we are getting beyond plumbing in IT and achieving the goal I advocate daily – big “I,” little “t.”

So, this is a column — a rather obsolete construct of another age — largely informed by recent experience with Google Wave, a cloud application potentially of the killer variety  — as in the capacity to kill a Microsoft app or two. Like many others, I am still trying to figure it out while my students are beginning to think about how to code something for it that would make you say, “Whoa, killer,” which is the traditional definition of a killer app.

Google Wave has the potential to be a uniquely valuable piece of software that can connect any enterprise that uses Web browsers. What’s especially exciting and of import to this magazine’s audience is the multiagency Federal Wave project.

To the best of my knowledge, when you include the military, the U.S. government is one of the largest organizations on the planet. It is also Microsoft’s single largest customer. They might still be small in number, but Federal Wave participants are eager to try something new. Although there is a learning curve, the potential applications are many.

For instance, if the Office of the Director of National Intelligence proceeds with its decision to shut down the uGov system for sharing information, Google Wave could come to the fore as the new solution for intelligence collaboration that reaches outside the intelligence community.

The big concern is that lots of government data will reside in Google’s cloud. Will it commingle with nonfederal data? Is that OK? Is this the opening of government business that Vivek Kundra keeps talking about? We’ll have to wait and see.

One final point: Wave does not work on Microsoft Internet Explorer. Hurts, Redmond, doesn’t it?

Hey, Google: Don’t get cocky.

About the Authors

Chris Bronk is a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an adjunct instructor of computer science at Rice. He previously served as a Foreign Service Officer and was assigned to the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy.


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