Published Dawn Scitech, November 22nd, 2009
What Is Google Wave?
Announced by Google at the Google I/O conference in May, 2009, Google Wave is a web application and computing platform designed to bring together e-mail, instant messaging, wiki, and social networking. It was designed with a strong real-time collaboration focus in mind and that mixed with real time spellchecker and translator extensions makes it a next-gen platform. But will the wave leave us gasping for breath as we surf cyber-space better than before or will it crash and burn. As one of the lucky 100,000 global users who were given the invites, we decided to take a closer look?
The Need For The Wave
Everyone uses email and instant messaging on the web now, but imagine if you could tie those two forms of communication together and add a load of functionality on top of it. At its most fundamental form, that’s essentially what the Wave is. Google calls it a cross between conversation and document that allows users to do with one tool what they currently do with many people discussing and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. It works in a Web browser on the desktop or on mobile phones, like Apple’s iPhone or Google Android devices.
Google Wave is powerful because it is a product, a platform, and a protocol simultaneously. Just as Ajax technology blurred the identity of Web sites by allowing content to be embedded on any Web site, Wave blurs the distinctions between communications modes and between content creation applications.
A New Web
The Wave has been centered around the key fundamentals Google is focusing on with HTML 5: The canvas element, the video element, geo-location, App Cache and Database and Web Workers. Integrating Web Workers capability especially is a great move because it allows a developer to run background processes outside of the browser so it doesn’t slow to a crawl whilst running very rich apps. Web Workers will help turn the browser into a more full-fledged launch pad for the next generation of web apps and wave is leading the way.
The Wave Experience
Writing a wave is a lot like typing text into Gmail, Google Docs, blog posting. To the left of the right-hand column featuring the discussion, there’s an in-box with other Waves and to the left of that, there’s a navigation pane atop a list of contacts that looks very similar to Gmail’s layout.
Instead of a typical “I send you a message, you receive it and you reply” type of exchange, however Wave encapsulates conversations between people and shows real-time responses in line, more like threaded comments than individual messages. If you and I are having a conversation in Wave, you see me type out my responses, typos and all, as I pound out a reply. To respond to my note, just click below the last message and extend the thread. This is taking the functionality of editing in groups on Google Docs, one step further, but as anyone who has ever tried it knows that this group-edit can be tricky. The wave however offers a nice UI and real-time edit updates to ensure that even a few people editing something in a wave don’t step all over each other. When someone is editing something, you see their name outlined by a brightly colored box next to the edits they are making in real-time. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos and Google maps. Other example of things you can share in Wave include games, event invitations and more. If you get confused, you can just use the Playback feature to jump around and see the edits. You also have the ability to ping somebody and have a 1-1 conversation in the middle of any wave or in a dedicated side exchange.
Wave As A Web Communication Tool
Google isn’t just thinking of Wave as another web app that it creates and you use on one site — it wants you to be able to use it across all sites on the web. If e.g. you have a blog, than as a post, you could share a wave with the public and allow others to see what you and the other people in your wave are doing. These visitors to your blog could even join in directly right from your blog and all the information would be placed right into the original wave. This functionality can be extended to any kind of site.
The Crash Report
With such powerful integrated features, you can imagine the Achilles heel of Google Wave is that it’s very very noisy. New waves can pop into your in boxes from anywhere, anyone and anytime. So while you may initiate one conversation, you could be dragged into another one that already has 60 entries and then Twave (Twitter Entries) can follow suit just as you’re getting accustomed. If you are in enough active threads, even the playback button doesn’t help and the act of watching each one can be time consuming and an enormous task. Also staying on top of all active waves can be a tremendous challenge. It’s like having multiple chat windows open. You cannot reply to all people simultaneously.
Meanwhile, until Google Wave is integrated into GMail or other Google services, checking your Wave becomes yet another place to go so you’re not missing conversations directed your way. So for somebody like me, who has a personal e-mail address, a work e-mail address, a GMail address, and e-mail addresses for company clients, Wave is yet another inbox and place to go to check in.
Wave has the makings of a killer app, like e-mail before it but it will take time and patience to learn the technology and get the noise in control. Small teams will definitely use the Wave for real-time collaboration as its very nature offers an opportunity to further eliminate distance and improve information exchanges. If you’re diving into this new technology, expect to exert a lot of energy to stay on top of it, because messaging just got accelerated and when at work, it will take incredible discipline to control the power of the wave.