First, I want to be clear: I have not installed, used or been invited to use Google Wave. That’s my disclaimer, and I’m sticking to it, for now.
The Google Wave team sent out invitations to an additional 100,000+ test users starting September 29, 2009 (the original preview was for developers only and the number of developers involved has not been broadcast). This set of users consists of three main subgroups: public users who signed up early, developers, and a select group of Google Apps users. So what are they getting?
Google Wave has been highlighted in many ways: as a real-time communication platform, as a reinvention of e-mail for the 21st century and as an online collaboration game-changer. There are an enormous number of articles and posts on Google Wave available and I’m not going to try to be comprehensive about this (I will provide links at the end of this post if you wish to do some more reading on your own). What I am going to do is point out a few things that I think are truly interesting and compelling about what Google is trying to accomplish with Wave, and a few open questions I have about how it might work or be adopted.
There is a marriage of e-mail and IM functionality into a single kind of communication. The video I saw showed the receiver of a mail responding to the middle part of a message. As it was explained, in e-mail normally you would click REPLY (creating a copy of the original message), comment within this new copy of the message, and click SEND. In Wave, you can just click within the message itself and a reply instance is created within that message into which you can place your comment or feedback. The receiver sees this real-time (or when they log back on). It is the end of the e-mail thread as we know it; especially the awkward bit where you respond to an earlier version of the thread…and find out the question was answered or resolved earlier.
The real-time collaboration in conversations and document-like spaces is impressive. One of a number of videos that I’ve seen shows 2 – 4 people tagging an enormous number of pictures online (saving time, and allowing for some great back and forth about what the pictures are really about). If any of your collaborators are online and in Wave at the same time as you are, this can get pretty exciting.
Wave allows bloggers and web developers to embed any Wave into a web site. This could be of interest to companies who want to create a heads-up system of feedback and customer service messages from their site or sites into the Wave client.
Wave playback is one of the more intriguing features to me. Since you can add new members to any Wave at any time, this makes it possible for any new member to get “up to speed” on what went before. The feature allows the user to actually see how the conversation started and progressed to the present. This is a great way to gain the context of a conversation and begin contributing more quickly.
Anil Dash wrote an insightful post titled What Works: The Web Way vs. The Wave Way that asks several good questions about how Wave might be adopted and made clear to users. Backing off of the hype, he looks at how technologies gain adoption on the web. He makes these four points about what he calls The Web Way upon which I comment:
- Upgrades to the web are incremental – technologies are generally adopted more readily if they do not require an overhaul of technical infrastructure or require radical changes to existing behaviors. I see both of these as big hurdles. Developing for a new platform requires significant training and enabling of developers (just ask experienced Java and .NET developers how long it took them to become productive on a new platform) and investment in the actual products and infrastructure to enable a successful roll-out. The changes in behaviors are just as difficult from the other side of the user spectrum. If Microsoft still has users of Office 2003 who refuse to upgrade to Office 2007 because of the introduction of the ribbon in the user interface, how difficult will it be to users to change the way they think of e-mail, let alone collaboration.
- Understanding new tech needs to be a week-end sized problem – Anil’s point here is that many developers try out a new platform, SDK or set of APIs by throwing together a simple demo over a long weekend so they can feel more comfortable with the toolset and how it works. Wave is extremely complex and doesn’t really lend itself, at this point, to this kind of assessment…..which could change over time.
- There has to be value before everybody has upgraded – The nature of web technologies is that it has to provide value even if the folks on “the other end” haven’t upgraded their browsers, clients, servers, tools, etc. If it isn’t deemed worthwhile, nobody shows up. Collaboration is an acknowledged and desirable goal for almost every group of people, from friends setting up a dinner to governments and enterprises managing enormous resources and budgets. However, many of these have a difficult time quantifying the value of collaboration, let alone agreeing on an actionable definition. Like Social Media, Collaboration is something that most organizations are trying to figure out (some better than others, of course). Maybe Wave can help, but Google still needs to prove it.
- You have to be able to understand and explain it – This seems to be self-explanatory, but just saying that it’s from Google and brings real-time collaboration into the 21st century isn’t really an explanation. That’s a brand and a tagline.
Google has really worked at creating something that could be useful. It still has a lot of rough edges, but it does not lack vision or funding. I have experienced seeing a number of products move from R&D to Proof of Concept, to version 1 through to version X and seen the evolution of some pretty cool things and watched the deaths of others. It remains to be seen what Google Wave can accomplish, but if it can do nothing else than get us to consider the possibilities of real collaboration was people and companies, it will have done us all a service.
What Works: The Web Way vs. The Wave Way – Anil Dash
About Google Wave – Google Wave team
Google Wave: Google Tries to Reinvent Email–Frederic Lardinois, ReadWriteWeb.com
Google Wave: A Complete Guide – Ben Parr, Mashable.com
Google Wave – Lifehacker.com
Hands-on with Wave: Weird and quite wonderful – Rafe Needleman, CNET.com
The Top 6 Game-Changing Features of Google Wave -Benn Parr, Mashable.com