Sunday, March 07, 2010

How To Understand Wavelets

I got acquainted with developing against the Google Wave Preview last week, and I'll be doing more of it this week. There are still many gaps in the documentation and in the public understanding of what exactly is going on in a lot of cases. This post is halfway between an introduction to Wave development and a story of my personal hurdles in my first experiments working with it.

One of the first things you'll find in the Wave documentation is a diagram I have reproduced here. This diagram is wrong.


You're going to notice something when you look at this diagram and play around with Wave itself, the web client. You're going to realize you have no idea what the difference between a Wave and a Wavelet is. You don't seem to be able to even see the term "Wavelet" appear anywhere in the application! What's more, everything the API docs describe a Wavelet as is what the UI seems to call a Wave. This was really confusing to me and I know I'm not the only one confused.

It took me a little bit of time to get the perspective to understand what I missed. Correcting my diagram with that information produces this:


See what was missing there? The missing piece was the all-too-subtle connection, not between Wave and Wavelet, but between individual waves. The official documentation diagram places the waves in parallel and mislead me to look in the wrong mindset for the distinction between Wave and Wavelet in the presentation context.

So how does this pan out in the user interface of Wave? Private replies. A private reply to any blip/reply will create a new Wavelet with two participants: the creator of the blip you reply to and yourself. (Actually, you can create a single-participant child wavelet if you reply to yourself privately.)

I'd like to try some experiments and see if and how the interface would present setups like a child wavelet with completely different participants from the parent wavelet. I'm investigating the use of these as sort of hidden data channels in a Wave. For example, the Robot I am developing might store some auxiliary data about the waves it gets used in via private replies to itself. 

Now, since I'm probably going to be spending a good bit more time with Google Wave in the weeks to come, I expect to document more of the things I'll learn along the way. If you're interested, let me know what you're doing or thinking about doing with Wave.

2 comments:

Cory said...

Your diagrams are not public documents, so they don't come through as images.

Calvin Spealman said...

Thanks, Cory. Fixed.

That's what I get for thinking the publish feature from Google Docs to Google Blogger would actually work right for once.

I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.