My first look at Google Wave
Although I have my doubts about Google, it still doesn’t stop me hypocritically waiting in line to receive an invitation to play with their new toys. So, after a long wait, on Sunday I finally received my invitation to the preview of Google Wave. I’m issuing a “long post alert” now, so you can cancel next year’s holiday if you plan to read all of this at once!
What is Google Wave?
Most people have already heard of Wave, but it’s actually a bit difficult to succinctly define exactly what it is. At its core, it is a HTML5 application, which provides a real-time messaging platform. That sounds a bit drab, but Wave has a lot of interesting possibilities.
Think of traditional e-mail communication – I send a message to you, you read it and reply to me. Now merge that with an expanded chatroom concept. This makes the whole thing more like a conversation.
Instead of a new e-mail message, you create a new “wave” and invite participants. All participants can see, add to and edit the wave. Rich formatting can be used, so photos, and media files can be inserted. Also “gadgets” or Google Wave Extensions can be embedded into the wave. Currently available gadgets include maps, itinerary planner, video chat and even a Sudoku game!
Extensions are add-ons that introduce new functionality to your account — adding them will personalize your Google Wave experience.
Gadgets are shared applications that run within a wave and to which all participants have access, such as real-time games and voting tools.
Google have made the APIs available, so that developers can create their own gadgets and extensions.
Participants can be added at any time during a wave, and have the option of a neat little “playback” function, which shows the evolution of the wave from the first post.
Users don’t have to be online to watch the wave, they can catch up with it whenever they log on, just like traditional e-mail. Unlike traditional e-mail, though, if the user is online and contributing to the wave, they can actually see the other participants’ key strokes as they reply. Google’s rationale is that a lot of traditional chat is asynchronous. You have to wait to fully read another user’s reply before formulating yours. If you can see the reply as they’re typing it, then it’s much more like a normal conversation. Additionally, it might encourage people to think before rashly responding.
Individual posts can be split apart, so that only the relevant bit is replied to, and private replies to wave participants are also supported. So you can have a sort of conversation within a conversation.
If all this sounds a little complex, the beauty of the system is that it’s not! It is actually incredibly easy to create a wave, add participants, create posts and add media. With the installation of the free Google Gears into your web browser, you can drag and drop media directly into a wave. The whole thing is very intuitive.
It is only in preview stage at the moment, and you can see little changes in the interface almost from day to day. Personally, I would like to see an automated playback feature – currently the user has to click on the “next” button each time to see new additions to the wave. When a wave gets large, a lot of clicks would be needed, so automated playback would be nice – without removing the existing functionality to pause, rewind and fast-forward the wave.
I know that they’re working on the functionality to drag and drop media without needing Google Gears installed, but this requires an addition to the HTML5 specification. It’s no problem to install Gears, but it does limit full cross-platform availability.
Will It Replace Traditional E-Mail Communication?
The short answer: eventually (probably). Wave is an interesting development, and has a lot of promise. Google’s decision to promote an open protocol based on Wave will help to develop mainstream acceptance of it as a platform. The Wave Federation Protocol, based on XMPP, is an open standard, and Google even provide an open source client/server to get people started.
As high-speed wireless networks become ubiquitous, the lightweight XML-based protocol will be easy to implement on handheld devices. And, since Wave works both in a traditional e-mail sense, as well as in a collaborative/chat/e-mail-meets-Twitter kind of a way, it’s easy to see how it will take off.
The challenge for Google, though, is how to get Wave to be accepted in a corporate setting. The predominantly Microsoft Exchange-based, “I-must-have-Outlook-on-my-desktop” organisations. Although Wave is innovative and useful, we won’t see a mass move away from traditional e-mail until it can be integrated into an Outlook-like desktop client. Speaking as a single user, though, it will gradually replace GMail for me – when I get a few more Wave users I can communicate with!!