What Is Google Wave And What’s In It For Small Business Owners?

What is Google Wave and what's in it for small business owners - Small Business, Marketing and Web Design blog What is Google Wave?

The more you read about it the more confusing it gets. Is it an e-mail? Or is it a messenger service, like AIM or MSN Messenger? Maybe it is some sort of sharing thing, like Flickr or YouTube?

Well – it’s none of the above, or rather, all of the above – with a twist. What you need to understand about Google Wave is that it is a new – and more effective – way of communication. Something like Twitter on so many steroids that it has mutated above and beyond any imagination.

If you think about how you (or your parents) used to use calculators for complex formulas. Doing step by step computations, writing temporary values on a piece of paper to plug them into next formula a few seconds later. I am talking about times before even Calc or Excel came along.

Or you can think of making payments in old days – you tear a check off from your checkbook. Then you find the bill and fill out amounts, dates, who is this check made to, maybe a note. Then you put both return portion of your bill and a check into the envelope, place a stamp on it and then run to the post office to make sure it has a slightly less chance of being lost.

These examples are what we are living with now, that’s the way we communicate. Slow, elaborate, multiple step manual and often painful process. That, in turn, is dependent on other processes, that are also manual and elaborate (think – getting a right calculator, a sharpened pencil and paper, or buying stamps and envelopes). Pain in the neck and other places.

Think of how you schedule a meeting. Think how you keep track of your group activities. Think of how you keep track of your own projects. Think of any daily activity that has any continuity to it.

So What’s In It For Small Business Owners?

Being a small business owner has one, most notorious yet unavoidable disadvantage to it. That is having only 24 hours for any given day. No matter what you do, you can’t make it 25, even if you hire enough muscle to turn mountains upside down. Google Wave can make that time count, save you time on multiple hassles and create more opportunities by just being there.

To show you how small business owners can benefit, I will cite an example of one of my clients who runs a successful business but still finds himself being totally lost in regards to what activities are current, what are done and what are pending, who works on what, which projects are complete and which are still open.

My communication with him is primarily through e-mail. He is using Yahoo mail, I am using GMail. He needs about 15 minutes to sit down and think what he wants to ask. Then he opens up last e-mail that I have sent him and replies with his new request. Which totally screws history of each issue and request as well as messes up threading in my GMail. Few hours later he decides to inquire about the status of another issue and the previous request gets buried under the previous one. So is the history of each of request on client’s side, because he fires off these e-mails randomly, without any regard to the previous contents. Issues get overlooked and lost. Important notifications get missed. Status reports and requests get looked at late. Mess is running the place.

Now let’s fast forward couple of years and imagine Google Wave is already open for business and I have actually succeeded moving my client from old and clunky Yahoo Mail to Google Wave. I create a Wave for each project I am working on or possibly will be working on. Or client can do it himself – doesn’t matter. Each Wave represents a stream of communications in regard to this specific project. Emails, images, videos, documents, requests and responses – everything is ordered by project. If something gets orphaned or request gets into foreign territory – we can move it into right stream, unlike e-mail of which we have no control over once it sent. The whole history is visible to both me and my client. We can refer to it and it is much clearer than a heap of e-mails without any order. We can invite participants to discuss certain issues, we can create sub-discussions to branch off discussions or to separate certain issues if we need to prioritize them or if we don’t want new participants to see the whole thing. I actually have submitted this to Google Wave ideas – should be somewhere among New Ideas now, feel free to vote. So if you are discussing something with your internet marketing guy, your accountant and your store manager in the other part of town – you don’t get confused, you can easily follow the stream and see what is going on with that particular project. Less time wasted, more money earned.

This example incorporates the following activities most of us are doing manually on a daily (and some on an hourly) basis:

  • e-mail sorting (is designer asking about the banner he sent us Monday last week or this week?)
  • assets sorting / file management (where the hell are those banners anyway?)
  • issue prioritizing (should we tell him to fix product image on a front page while we are searching for the damn banner?)
  • branching off the discussion (when did we say the money will be ready? Let’s ask bookkeeper if she sent the check already)
  • including other participants in the discussion (let’s ask what our marketing guy thinks about these banners)
  • having a meeting on the fly (alright, if everybody likes this banner, it’s a winner, case closed, move on).

As you can see, it may sound a bit convoluted. Indeed, it does – mainly because we are so used to doing the computation on calculator and piece of paper we cannot imagine having a computer with most of the solutions built in.

Little Projects And Teamwork

I still go to college. Partly because I am honorary three times college dropout. Partly because there’s always something new to learn and I am willing to go for it. And partly because it allows for interaction with a lot of different characters, like inexperienced people full of ideas and experienced people who can cool off any hot thoughts – all in the same room.

These days my college requires a lot of presentations – even for something like basic finance class. So our class was broken down into teams and each team was tasked with a boring project to analyze different cases of time-value of money. Our group took a hit early and was one person short, comparing to other teams. That, however, turned into an advantage, because synchronizing schedules of 4 people is a lot easier than it is for five. I can vouch for it, since I was a de-facto team leader, although I had to appoint someone else to be an official team leader

Another team, that was presenting right after us, had a chance to prepare for about a week and a half longer. They didn’t have as much constraints on their time as we did (all members of our team have a full time job in addition to school) nor they had family arrangements some of us have been tied in (babysitters, namely). In other words, they had all the chances to beat us on every single front. They didn’t and the sole reason for it was lack of leadership.

On my part, I did everything I could to make teammates involved into the project. We did a brainstorming session on our first meeting where we laid out the skeleton of the presentation. We put a personality into the project’s presentation that immediately resulted in every member of the team personally involved. I created an outline by drawing sample slides on whiteboard once we agreed on the idea. I created slides for the presentation leaving out empty ones to be filled in by each teammate so that everyone immediately realized their part of the presentation and who goes after who. Everyone worked independently on their part, which allowed some basic task crushing, so when we met next time – we already had 90% of work done, just needing some polish over. Once we started splitting the work, turned out two people have serious issues with stage fright, so I let them speak on the middle slides, while I open up the presentation. By setting up certain pace of the presentation from the start I was able to keep the tempo going for all four of us.

I had a chance to see one of their meetings and they have confirmed they’ve been pretty consistent about them – the whole team was working on a current step, so the rest was put away until current one is complete. The approached stemmed from inability of any team member to act as a legit team leader, delegating tasks to other members and controlling the deliverables. There’s an upside to this approach, of course: all team members are very familiar with every single part of the project. However, this is being offset by team members focusing on the latest problem and forgetting about previous steps; no one is taking responsibility for the parts of the projects or the project as a whole. But what was the most terrible mistake of all is that every presenter on their team got two slides each – dispersed throughout the presentation. One person started on a first slide and later on would come in to comment on slide 12. Second person actually got to talk about slides 2 and 10, next – 3 and 14, and so on. By the middle of the presentation it was impossible to keep track of the subject, who said what and what is going on. Not because they didn’t know the material – they knew it alright, but because there was no leadership in place to lead them through it.

As I have said in the opening of this post – I like going to college because it allows the interaction with a lot of different people. Examples like these clearly show where most of people’s uncertainty comes from. It comes from being afraid of consequences of being responsible, taking charge or making a decision. This is also what makes or breaks entrepreneurs: not the decisions themselves, but the ability itself to choose – with or without having a complete picture and full understanding of how things work.