What is Google Wave and what it’s not

October 19, 2009

The biggest hype on the Internet nowadays is the Google Wave. What is it exactly? It’s “an online communication and collaboration tool that makes real-time interactions more seamless”. That’s what Google would like to tell you. But in reality, there’s still a lot of work for them to get there. I’ll walk you through my experiences in this brief review.

So when you finally get your precious invitation and log into the Wave, this is what you see — a 3-column, nicely shaded design with nothing in, except the standard welcome message and a list of your friends who already Wave.

The Wave itself is like an Email message mixed with a Word document. It seems a bit threaded like in GMail, but on the other hand it seems to want to be read from top to bottom like a text file. There are some existing locations in the Navigation pane, but when you browser around them you find they are all Waves. This means, for example, that you can manage your Settings in a Wave, but also — that you can trash your Settings, if you want to. Odd. How to set Wave preferences afterwards?

Another thing is the design. While it’s really nice and slick, it’s not very Google. A lot of space is wasted and it doesn’t feel very functional. For example, there is no bottom Reply button — instead, you need to hover the bottom message border, which sometimes isn’t even visible.

Also, the style is not very coherent. Virtually each toolbar has it’s own icon style. Finally, from some reason, Google decided we no longer need to identify the recipients — or participants, in the Wave case — by their names, but by their avatars. I can see all these office workers using their cats and dogs pictures, or worse — not uploading a picture at all. We end up with a list of default grey heads, without a clue who is who.

As you can see above, I was playing with the document sharing and maps integration. Well, a Google Docs integration is a must, but it’s not here yet — you can view images in a nice lightbox, but the PDFs go straight to your desktop (or in-browser reader). The Maps widget is really nice, but creating a route is a mess. Why they made a different interface, instead of copying the one from the Maps site, I do not know.

The whole widgets idea is really cool, because, for example, you can share files with your coworkers and get their Yes/No opinion quickly, including small comments! However, if anyone would like to go through your conversation using the Playback (which is just something like a screencast of your Wave events), it would really take some time and wouldn’t be particularly interesting. I think Google would be better off visualizing the Wave such that it just could be easily read like an email.

And then this Real-time Web buzzword everybody caught onto. I mean, come on, it’s not about real-time typing, it’s not even a feature. I wouldn’t like for all of you to see how I write my blog post, I make edits and fine tune it, so you can all read it without choking. If I were to write it as you read, it would not only make me feel weird, but be counter-productive for you too — waiting, and staring as my characters pop-out back and forth, as well as occasionally hang while I try to think what to write next.

Finally, the collaborative sharing and editing. It’s cool, but how can you manage the conversation if everybody can edit out any message, of anyone, even the previous ones? I understand the concept of total sharing, but this is just a no-no in a corporate environment, I think. And yes, you could use Playback to see what has happened, but from the reason stated before, I don’t think anybody would seriously have time for it.

Summarizing, it’s not that the Google Wave is a bad service. I can see it’s future when it develops and fixes bugs here and there. But I don’t think it will be a revolution. It may be an evolution, but it’s not a service like the Search or GMail. With these, Google took what already existed and made it virtually perfect. With Wave, they took the Email and made it… well, really different. And the way it looks like now, I don’t think it will catch on among any other group then geeks.

The protocol itself is another matter. If it can handle all this cool real-time transmission using just a browser, this really might be a revolution. However, again, this part is even more for geeks. So, my final line is that Google Wave looks nice, but it has a lot of work before it is the real real-time deal.

Originally published at web.archive.org.