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Friday, October 2, 2009

My first day with Google Wave

11:53:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg No comments

”Google Wave feels a bit regressive. Email paradigm on steroids? - Jevon MacDonald (@jevon), Dachis group.

I got the same feeling as Jevon when I saw the first screenshots and read about Google Wave at ReadWriteWeb and elsewhere. I am not sure if that feeling has completely gone after having used it for an impressive whole day, or if it has just changed a little.

I usually try to stay away from reviewing products and tools, but this time I have made an exception. The exception spells Google Wave. I shared some of my early reactions yesterday on Twitter. Here are a few of my tweets, in chronological order with the first on top:

  1. Checking out Google Wave
  2. The best thing with Google Wave is the empty inbox
  3. It's hard to really test Google Wave without someone to communicate with - invitations aren't sent immediately
  4. Reflection from my first wave in Google Wave: how to end a real-time conversation in a wave?
  5. Does Google Wave provide a searchable directory of all users? I haven't seen one
  6. If Google Wave usage is going to take off, we need to be able to find each other

Google Wave IS Email 2.0. And I mean that in a good way.

How? Well, Google Wave builds on the strengths of Email 1.0 and adds 2.0 qualities and features to it to compensate for the weaknesses of Email 1.0. But it does not just add these things on top of Email 1.0. The Google Wave team has come up with a new architecture and applied some fresh new design principles. Google Wave has apparently been designed to take advantage of the simplicity of email and our familiarity and (sometimes bad) habit with using email for virtually any kind of communication and even collaboration. But in areas where email performs really bad, such as when it comes to providing structure, versioning, history and context to conversations and integration of various forms of content, Google Wave stands tall.

Despite what some analysts have said, I have a hard time seeing how Google Wave can be compared to a social networking platform like Facebook or even Twitter. At least not until there are a lot of people using it and some way to discover and connect with people and become aware of their activities. Today, I can communicate with people I know or who provide me with their Google Wave address outside of Google Wave so I can add them as contacts. But there currently is no way to discover and get to know people from inside of Google Wave, unless they happen to be part of a wave into which you are invited.

In a way, Google Wave is like email on steroids. The part that is missing now is the infrastructure for social conversations - the social network. I can see Google Wave being integrated into services such as LinkedIn and FaceBook or even Twitter, but I can't see how it will replace it. And I don't think that is what Google is aiming for with Google Wave. Google Wave is just not social in the same sense as Facebook and definately not in the same way as Twitter.

What I can see however is a huge potential of Google Wave becoming a collaboration infrastructure for small groups of people. A wave in Google Wave ties all conversations and content that is somehow related to a task or project together - and it keeps them together. That is essential in virtual collaboration. The wave provides a context that grows organically from the first single message. You can build upon it almost indefinately and the history of all conversations is readily available via the really amazing ”Playback” function where you can walk yourself though the history of a wave. This is how Google explains what a wave is:

  • A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
  • A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
  • A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

As waves are not tied to peoples' inboxes, the email inbox lock-in problem does not apply for Google Wave. A wave can be accessed and interacted with from virtually any context, be it a blog, an intranet, or a mashup. Although a wave is logically tied to persons, it is not tied to their inboxes. The inbox is just a view where you are notified about new waves or changes to an existing wave. The wave is not physically ”in” your inbox. The wave exists in one version only and everybody see and interact with the same wave. So there we have the potential death of email management and putting space limits to inboxes. The chinese whispers game that you can play with email, with the message changing as it moves moves from one person to another, can't be played in Google Wave. Any attempt to distort the message or filter out things will be recorded, and the original message can be found.

I personally think that Google Wave will hit like a bomb on the enterprise market for collaboration and communication tools. I am quite sure that the news about Google Wave hit like a bomb at the Microsoft Corp Headquarters in Redmond when it was announced at the Google IO conference in May earlier this year. I also think that the chance - or risk depending how you see it - that the guys at Microsoft have managed to think outside the box with the upcoming new 2010 versions of Exchange and SharePoint is minimal. I am convinced that these dinosaur products are stilled based on the good old email and document paradigm, but now with more social features and characteristics, a clould offering, RIA and other 2.0ish stuff as icing on the cake. Google, on the other hand, came up with a new recipe and invented a new cake.

As always, Google will start with letting consumers try out their new tool. But the fact that ”select business and university customers of Google Apps” have invited to this first beta trial indicates that Google Wave will be a corner-stone in Googles enterprise offering. Google Wave can be the first real threat to Microsoft in the enterprise software arena.

Finally, here are some insignificant short notes that I wrote down yesterday as I tried out Google Wave:

  • As I can see every character that other people write in real time, at the same moment as I write something myself, I tend to change my message as I write based on what other persons write. The end result is a message that hardly can be understood by other users who did not participate in the wave at the time.
  • It took a while until I understood that I had to click messages to mark them as read. I expected it to work like Google Reader, where just scrolling by (reading) messages would mark them as read. Now I have to do a lot of unnecessary interaction.
  • The green dot indicating if a user is online or not is really ugly and almost annoying.

Well, Google Wave really has to do something about the ugly green dot if Google Wave is to become a smashing success ;-)

UPDATE: The green dot is now mysteriously gone! (yesterday, my own profile picture had the green dot and now it hasn't)

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