October 15, 2009

What is Google Wave?

Writing about web page http://wave.google.com

I’ve seen lots of opinions about Google Wave. “Google wave will replace email.” “Google Wave will replace instant messaging.” “Google Wave is the new Twitter.” In my opinion, none of those is true. Wave is something different from all of them.

First, though, what does Google say Wave is:

Google Wave is an online communication and collaboration tool that makes real-time interactions more seamless—in one place, you can communicate and collaborate using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Also Lars Rasmussen, one of Wave’s inventors, has said “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today.”

I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the preview system in the first round on September 30th, so I’ve now had a couple of weeks to play with it. I know quite a few other people with accounts and so have been able to experiment with most of the features of it now. For me, the main differentiator is the real-time nature of it. Without that, a wave is little more than a wiki page that only a few people can see and edit. Or a whole thread of emails visible at once. That’s not so revolutionary, really.

So, the key is the real-time nature of it. How important is that, really? I see it as possibly useful in some restricted scenarios, specifically where a smallish group of people are collaborating on a single thing and will all be online at once. When you can’t guarantee that everyone, or a significant proportion of them, will be online together, then the real-time features are wasted and you are back to a wiki/email hybrid. And even if you can, how important is that, really? I’m not sure I see the point. I haven’t come up with an example yet that couldn’t be done just was well with a combination of existing tools. Maybe the that’s the point? Using a single tool instead of several? Or maybe I just don’t have enough imagination? That’s almost certainly true…! I know there are lots of clever, imaginative people out there playing with Wave and trying to find uses. Perhaps the killer app is out there, but we just haven’t found it yet?

There’s lots of good technology underlying wave. Making it all hang together in real-time, and all browser based, is clever stuff. The Wave developers have done an impressive job. But the hype at the moment seems to be focussed on that, and we need to look beyond the technology to the uses of it. The extension architecture provides lots of interesting possibilities, and again some very clever people are working on extensions to do interesting things. We just need to wait and see what they come up with. Maybe the technology itself really is the interesting part of Wave, and it will end up being used to support something else that is useful, and Wave itself is just the first demonstrator app and will eventually fade away?

Whatever Wave is, and whatever is turns into, I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to displace email, IM, Twitter or anything else anytime soon. And we need a lot more people with access to it before we’ll see how useful it is in its current incarnation. Keep those invites flowing, Google…!

(And before you ask, no I have no invites to give out – my eight invites disappeared on day one and I’ve been given no more. Sorry.)

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