Google Wave Review: First Impressions

by Paul Carpenter
See Dave Speak SMX London

There doesn’t actually seem to that much of a buzz about Wave, other than the usual pleas for invites and the occasional shrug. I know Dave kind of looked at it and went ‘meh’. I’ve been using it now for a little over a week and here’s my  initial thoughts.

This isn’t a game changer. But…

Email and IM are broken. Both date back to a simpler era and predominately work best as a format for two-way conversation. I’m watching an email exchange grow in my inbox between me and some guys at a client site and its fascinating to see how some people reply to all, and some people just reply to the sender. That makes for a messy, messy interchange.

I’ve literally no idea what three of the emails mean – and I started the conversation! Add to that the absolute mess of formatting you get with footer disclaimers, signatures and the mix of rich text/plain text respondees and you start to see some real potential inherent in Wave.

IM is the same – you get 3 people all typing at once and responding to different messages and before long there’s 2 people chatting and everyone else is either ignoring the window or has left the conversation.

wave1

Wave takes the best features of both and brings them together in one space. You can reply in line to any comment – no matter how old  - and the structure of the conversation is maintained. Whether that represents a quantum leap over trusty old threaded forum software is the real question here and I’d say the jury’s still out on that.

The ability to drop in and out of live chat alongside archived posts is pretty cool, because you can maintain that level of spontaneity.

But, of course, not everyone has a Google account. Everyone does have an email account and email conversations are agnostic about where that account sits. To use Wave means signing up for a Google account, and I don’t think that many people outside the industry even really know that there is such a thing

Getting traction outside Google fanbois and early adopters is the only way that Wave is going to become part of the wider web infrastructure.

Some features are way promising…

The convergence between the trad desktop and cloud computing is getting a little bit more profound every week. Wave has many potential examples of this – the most obvious being the ability to drag and drop items from your desktop straight into a Wave, where it can be accessed immediately. While it might not seem that big a deal, think of the hassle when someone forgets to attach a document in an email thread….

…and some are duds. For now.

One glorious feature of email is that it is at least easy to see when you’ve got new messages to respond to. Currently, Wave’s “inbox” is pretty much crud. New messages are difficult to locate and as far as I can tell, messages made directly to you aren’t flagged in any way differently to new posts in the flow.

wave2

The ability to edit posts after the fact seems pretty cool – but actually you can totally mess with meanings and render a conversation useless. You can even change things that other people have said and there’s no obvious highlighting of who’s done what. So yeah, on the collaboration front that sounds good, but it does mean you can commit evil. It would only take two people called Paul Carpenter to be involved in a Wave and a catfight would probably break out in minutes about who said what (I’d win).

The much-touted ‘playback’ feature that lets you watch how the Wave grew over time is a still a little bit clunky as you have to keep pressing a button to find out what happened next. A smooth single click playback with variable speed would probably work a little bit better for bigger Waves.

SEO knock on?

One of the most interesting features is that Waves will be embeddable in web pages (there still seems to be a lot of patchiness in actual implementations of this). That means a discussion taking place here could show up on a dozen different sites. That’s quite an exciting idea for those of us interested in developing readerships and mindshare. But there’s potential canonicalisation issues because the same Wave could exist at many different URLs simultaneously.

Of course, the content is all API’d and Ajaxed to the max, but as a Google proprietary format you figure it’s probably indexable. The question is: will Waves be treated as discrete objects in themselves and indexed separately? Or will they just be counted as content on the original page where it was embedded? I don’t see a clear answer to that as yet.

How to make best use of Wave

I’m sure the first guys to ever use newsgroups peppered their opening exchanges with “Hi, welcome to my ‘thread’ – whatever that means” and similar inanities so we can probably ignore the noise to signal ratio at this stage of the game.

Where I think it will score heavily is in the realm of expert discussion. The video demos used examples of people agreeing a night out, but the problem of low take-up of Google accounts means that’s probably going to be a pipedream for some time yet. However, it does open the possibility of a truly excellent level of conversation, with side-discussions taking place within a main debate yet retaining an overall structure.

I could see that working very well as a replacement for trad blog comments or some forum sites where the discussions are massive and complex. You could ask a question about a point I made 2 years ago and I could answer it there and everything would still make sense.

In conclusion

Wave has a lot of promise as a communication medium. There’s nothing technical there that isn’t fixable, and as a concept it’s fundamentally sound. What will be critical to its success is finding an audience. I can’t see it being compelling enough to drag site owners to implementing it en masse, but for certain niches where high-level discussion is required it will fulfill the job probably better than any other solution out there and find a pretty decent reputation for discerning site owners who don’t mind a limited audience.

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