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Google Wave: What’s It All About?

google_wave_logoThe hype surrounding Google Wave over the last month has been incredible. Ever since Wave launched an invite-only preview on September 30th, the internet has been buzzing with questions, tips, and invite requests. Google Wave has been a trending topic on Twitter for weeks, and tweets requesting invites are still pouring in. My own blog post about Wave has attracted hundreds of visitors and I’ve received many blog comments and emails requesting invites. So, what’s all this hype about? Why is everybody suddenly obsessed with this new service? It could be that they are captivated with the notion of invite-only services and are terrified of being left out. Or, maybe it’s because Google thinks Wave will revolutionize the way we interact with each other. I think it’s a bit of both.

Tons of hype on Twitter around Google Wave

Google has positioned Wave as a new way to communicate and collaborate on the web. Most people are still heavily reliant on email and instant messaging for their online communication. These services have been around for decades and new communication tools have since been invented. Blogs, wikis, and social networks are becoming increasingly popular ways to interact online.  For college students, alternative ways of communicating, like Facebook and text messaging, have already started to replace email. Google Wave hopes to address these issues by providing a completely unique approach integrating email, instant messaging, sharing, and document collaboration into one product.

One of the biggest technologies that Wave is out to change is email. Email has been around forever and many of us use email constantly at work and in our personal lives. Email is good for some things but it can quickly get out of hand. Sometimes it can take 3-4 back-and-forth emails to answer a simple question. Think about how much faster this would be if instant messaging was used instead? Or how about all of those emails that you get CC’d on but don’t care about? The opposite is also possible where you initiate an individual conversation which might be better discussed with a group of people. Wave strives to make all of these situations more clear. It’s extremely easy to start a wave with an individual to ask them a question. If they happen to be online at the time, you can continue the Wave via instant messaging. It’s easy to add other members to the wave if it suddenly becomes of interest to them. Alternatively, you can “Mute” a wave if you no longer wish to be a part of it. Wave blurs the line between these technologies and makes it easier to pick the best one for the situation.

Wave greatly improves instant messaging between friends by adding convenient chat history (“playback”) and a simplified way of doing multi-person chats. The Wave playback feature provides a way to step through the wave history and see exactly when certain events happened. I’ve been using Wave heavily for mult-person chats because it’s just so easy to do! It’s great because you can add new participants to a wave halfway through and they can see the full conversation history. Another nice thing about instant messaging with Wave is that your friends don’t have to be online at the same time. If they are away, you can leave them messages in the wave for later. Wave adds the flexibility of email with the convenience and speed of instant messaging.

A multi-way chat discussing Halloween costume ideas

Document sharing and collaboration has never been easier than it is with Wave. I’ve been working closely with @barnoff this month on a Twitter project he started. As he continues to work on the project, he posts code, questions, and ideas for me to review. Since Wave has the ability to edit any of the posts, I have been able to add comments to his code and make tweaks when necessary. We’ve found this to be much easier than working with Google Docs or trying to work with code over iChat.

Collaborating on some code with @barnoff

After using Wave heavily for the past month, I really believe that it has a bright future. I was a bit concerned about it back in September because I wasn’t sure if people would use it. It’s not easy to convince people to use a new tool when they don’t initially see the value it offers. I think the tremendous amount of hype has really helped push Google Wave adoption and I’m very surprised to see almost 20 of my friends already actively using Wave. I expect the Wave invites to keep flowing out as the Wave team continues to improve the scalability of the system. If you haven’t already received a Google Wave invitation, you can request one here. If you have more questions about Wave, please ask in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer what I can.  I hope to see you on Wave soon!


Comment from Dan
Time October 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I would disagree that certain sites or technologies are replacing email. In fact, almost all of them rely heavily on email in order to keep their users engaged. If your wiki is being used for collaboration on a new project (vs. an infrequently-updated encyclopedia of helpful information), email is the most useful way to learn about new content and either add, modify, or delete it.

Similarly, if you belong to five different social networking and micro-blogging sites because you’re just that cool, your options are to manually check all five sites for updates or just read your email.

You can use RSS/Atom as a substitute if you want, but I think most people recognized long ago that feed readers are basically read-only email clients with slightly better organizational capabilities (and that is variable depending on which two products you choose to compare).

Instant messaging falls into this same pattern when people try to use it for non-instant communication. Consider a system that IMs you when there is new content on a wiki page you are monitoring. Unless that wiki page is your #1 priority right now, your attention to this page will be queued and dealt with later. Since it’s in an IM window, you presumably need to put it somewhere for future reference. This is why you see Sametime clients with tabs for chats, and people who keep Sametime chats open all day in those tabs. They are essentially recreating their email client in Sametime – the tabs are just threads.

I think the real opportunity for innovation lies in trying to enhance email clients, not in trying to re-invent asynchronous electronic messages. Google did offer some new ideas in GMail, although I’ve been using it since the beginning and don’t consider it epic or anything. But at least they have the right focus. Wave is just another attempt to replace email with something that will eventually become email; they should instead focus on better ways to integrate email content with non-email resources to make people more productive with the information they receive (a tiny but helpful example is the way GMail tries to show you a map of addresses it finds in your email).

Comment from Jason Wagner
Time October 27, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Hey Dan,

You bring up a lot of very good points. I still rely heavily on email and it is still one of the best ways to get notified when new content is happening. I also use Twitter in a similar fashion in order to keep track of blogs and other news. I use it to aggregate a bunch of data sources into a single stream so that I don’t have to constantly check 50 sites.

Your last paragraph is right on point. Part of me thinks that Google Wave is just a prototype for where Google would like Gmail to be in a few years. The underlying aspects of email are still present in Wave and I think that these will continue to be important for years to come. I think once Wave becomes more popular and we are able to work with the Wave content outside of the website, it will be even more useful. I expect mobile and desktop applications for Wave to start showing up in the coming months.

Thanks for the good insight!!

Pingback from What Happened To Google Wave? | plzkthxbai by Jason Wagner
Time February 13, 2010 at 5:23 pm

[…] exists between Wave and many of the other services we are already using today. Back in October, I wrote about Wave and explained it as a blend of email, instant messaging, and document collaboration. Unfortunately, […]

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