Google Wave - first lookBy Thomas McKinnon 20 October 2009 | Categories: internet general
Waves, wavelets and blips are just a few more terms recently added to the ever growing Google lexicon since the release of the Google Wave Preview.
Despite only a 100 000 invites being sent out, and just eight secondary invites allowed per original invitee, Wave has attracted massive online media attention and tons of speculation about the future success of the project. So great is the hype that people have auctioned off invites online, with these fetching as much as $70. It took a week or so, but we finally received ours – and no we didn’t buy it.
Why the hype?
Wave is an email client, an instant messaging (IM) service, a wiki, a web chat service, a networking platform and a project management tool. It promotes real-time communications and importantly collaboration. In essence it’s a productivity tool based in the cloud.
Back in 2004 in the outpost Google Australia offices, brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the original brains behind Google Maps, developed a concept that sought to combine the power of email and IM. They wanted to bring these aging technologies into the 21st century with the aid of HTML5. Put on hold while they toiled away with Maps, they restarted their work on Wave, with the end result now open as a preview to just under a million people worldwide.
While some have described Wave as underwhelming and pure Google hype, it is important to bear in mind what Wave is not. It isn’t a social networking tool, although there are social networking gadgets you can embed in waves. What it is though is a tool that overcomes numerous problems we face with traditional email, such as working on a single version of a document, keeping everyone involved in the conversation and keeping records of changes.
Using Wave is actually a lot like using an email client like Office Outlook, or at least that’s the closest thing we could find to compare it to. This similarity means you can literally start using it from the word go, while mastering it takes a bit more effort. You can create folders for organising correspondence, read messages and manage contacts. Its interface is really straightforward with a navigation bar, a contacts list, an inbox and a “new Wave” window. One glance told us where everything was – it’s really quite intuitive.
Search and contacts are central to the entire process though, rather than messages. You can search through waves by keywords, activity, history, contacts, and Google search commands like *, which shows all results. Before you get started you first want to fill out your Google profile and add a profile pic to your account. The profile pics of everyone involved in a wave appear above the wave window, and adding contacts to the conversation is as simple as clicking an add button and selecting a contact. This user-centric approach makes Wave more like an IM service than email as you first need contacts to start communicating.
Waves are about ongoing communications rather than the staggered or once off emails we are used to. There is no cut off in messages, as you can reply to each in threaded communications via new “blips” (a bit like a single line of an IM conversation), or edit entire documents in real-time from other contacts.
When working on a document together with someone else, you can actually see the changes being made in real-time. A cursor flashes across your screen, the highlighted name of the person involved in the wave appears, and you see the text being replaced or amended. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but it does change your perception of real-time collaboration.
The whole notion of a communication wave is phenomenal as multiple people can communicate and collaborate on a single communication- adding, editing and deleting text, images and video simultaneously. It really does breathe fresh air into the notion of a living document.
The great thing is that all communication is recorded. You can playback actions taken on a document to see who added or removed what and when. This makes tracking the life of a document a straightforward process. As contacts are central to Wave you can even add and exclude certain contacts from specific bits of content and periods in the wave’s life cycle. Selectively sharing information in this way adds to it potency as a collaborative tool.
More than just a communications platform, Wave has great potential for collaboration through gadgets or robots, applications that you can embed in waves. As the source code for Wave has been made open, developers can create apps to aid users in more complex communications and interaction. Trippy for instance is an app that can be embedded in a wave that allows users to collaborate on the itinerary of trips or holidays.
The ability to add to the functionality of a wave is important as organisations could potentially create apps that are tailored to internal communications or private individuals could create apps to organise groups collaboratively. The potential for customised forms of collaboration and communication tools within the platform are therefore nearly limitless.
Just the beginning
Wave is still in its infancy. Its potential still needs to be weighed, but with so much media attention and such a unique, forward thinking view on communication it could well be adopted by many millions when it is opened to the public.
It does need some work though, as things like a lack of wave update notifications to your desktop or browser tab can be a little limiting as you can only tell if a wave contains fresh information if the window it’s in is open in front of you. The inability to simply “undo” changes to a document is also rather frustrating. Finally the fact that you have to install the Google Chrome Frame to run Wave in Internet Explorer could irritate some people.
There is no news yet on when Google Wave will be made available to the public, but we suspect it is only then that the myriad other uses for Google’s latest venture will become apparent.
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