So far the impact of social networking websites has only had a limited impact on the global engineering community. Facebook, Twitter and their ilk may have become a phenomenon for some social groups worldwide but so far they have not really been embraced wholeheartedly by engineers.
There are a number of theories put forward for this lack of interest. Many engineers say they simply haven't got the time to spend on social networking. Many non-engineers say that engineers haven't got the social skills necessary to be networkers in the first place.
So it is going to be interesting to see whether Google's new real-time communication platform, Google Wave, is going to finally spark some interest in engineers and gain acceptance as a useful development tool.
First impressions of what Google Wave has to offer seems to suggest that there are some key features that will prove useful to engineers especially if they are working as part of multi-site research and development teams.
Here are just five features that may tempt engineers to dip a toe into the Wave universe.
1) Open Source: Google Wave code is open source which should promote innovation and adoption amongst developers.
2) Real-time: In most cases, you can see what someone else is typing almost in real-time.
3) Wiki functionality: Anything written within a Google Wave can be edited by anyone else, because all conversations within the platform are shared. This will mean you can correct information, append information, or add commentaries as a dialogue develops.
4) Drag-and-drop file sharing: No need for attachments so you can drag your file and drop it inside Google Wave and everyone will have access.
5) Applications and Extensions: Just like a Facebook application or an iGoogle gadget, developers can build their own apps within waves.
However, there are also a number of potential pitfalls in Goole Waves that could turn off the engineering community.
The Wiki functionality in the wrong hands could go easily become a double-edged sword. After all scientists down the centuries have been known to try and rewrite their rival's theories! This new communications platform gives everyone a chance to alter history before it has had time to become history.
Google Wave is designed to autocorrect your spelling which several engineers might find useful. Google also claims that Google Wave can also auto-translate on-the-fly. I am not sure I personally would be happy to rely on the accuracy of auto-translation software but some people may be less paranoid.
The real-time aspect of Google Wave also sounds great in theory but in reality do we need to watch an engineer show off their typing skills character by character?
The most apparent benefit of Google Wave is its ability to collaborate on documents through an easy-to-use interface. The platform will enable, say, all the power design engineers together with team leaders or project managers at a meeting to simultaneously make notes on the same page. You can pose questions to the group or chip in ideas as the discussion develops without having to halt the flow of the conversation.
Used properly the level of interactivity could prove a time saver on the other hand if everyone communicates at the same time it could be a major time waster. Speaking of time wasting one of the more annoying aspects of these social networking innovations is having to learn all the bogus language they seem to come with. What's a tweet? What's a twave? What's a wavelet? What's a blip? Seems like too much quasi jargon for jargon's sake.
Some of the features of Google Wave do appear to be overblown and come across as 'geeky'solutions in search of a real problem. But some of the real benefits may well outweigh the surfeit of features.
I am going to reserve judgement for a while. Mainly because there are so many features embedded with Google Wave it will take me weeks to find out what they all are. I'll get back to you when I have worked them all out.