I’ve been using Google Wave for a few weeks now and while I’m aware I’m still very much a novice, I’m confident that this is a fair appraisal of its potential and the limitations of the current iteration.
Attending #GWSUG gladdened my heart somewhat as it quickly became apparent that despite being possibly one of the least geeky of those present – and I lean heavily towards the pointy end of the bell curve in geek terms – I was by no means alone in my experience of the Wave.
My initial impressions haven’t altered substantially three weeks in: in short, it often feels as though one is drowning not waving.
I’ve seen a number of people make the comment that Wave feels very much like IRC: the format is such that it can be inchoate, messy and confusing. The ability to comment on replies, edit existing messages and delete posts at any point in the timeline means that without repeatedly re-playing the wave, it’s nigh on impossible to fathom what’s going on.
However, to dwell on this is to miss the actual purpose of Wave, which is – as Daniel Tenner suggests in his excellent review – for working, not shirking.
The real strength of Wave is all about collaboration in real time. Watching a document or piece of content come to life through a cooperative enables you to see the rationale behind changes as they’re made in an intuitive fashion, make notes, discuss alterations and agree on a final cut. Even for people who aren’t working together in the same time zone, playing back the wave gives a truer understanding and deeper insight into the process and decisions made to date.
Rather than the stilted to-ing and fro-ing of email – potentially dropping people and files along the way – or even the clever but structurally rigid Basecamp from 37 Signals, Wave gives users a fluid conversational tool that keeps everyone, from stakeholder to implementer, involved, clued-up and empowered. Being able to drag and drop files into a conversation feels smooth and logical.
The true hallmark of great design or innovation is when something feels so seamless and obvious that you can’t imagine why it didn’t already exist, and Wave has this in spades.
It won’t be long before we’ll be amazed we ever managed to work before Wave.
Of course Wave is buggy – it’s in a private test environment being battered around and monkey-tested by nerds for this reason. However, there are a few massive holes that will need to be addressed by the developers at the Googleplex fairly promptly.
Firstly, there are currently huge confidentiality and privacy issues: while you can branch off from a group into a private conversation, there’s no ability for users to approve or vet who is added to a Wave. Any user can invite anyone else. That’s great for transparency and accountability, but human nature being what it is, this could be the source of some of the most awkward office gaffes and breaches of commercial confidence ever to exist. Those awkward accidental ‘reply all’ emails pale into insignificance in comparison.
Without some radical re-thinking and added security settings, @ replying a DM on Twitter will come to seem like as quaint an act of indecorousness as using the wrong fork at a dinner party is to Gen KFC, when set against the risks of inappropriate Wave sharing.
Further massive usability failures include the monumental amount of RAM eaten by Wave, the fact the iPhone app is slow and creaky and Chrome is the preferred Wave browser as FireFox “doesn’t like waves with more than 100 blips in them…” more than a little irksome for Mac users.
Version control is also tricky: in order to find the original version, one has to replay the wave, pause when you reach the virgin document and paste it into a new Wave, meanwhile hoping someone else doesn’t alter it subsequently. Perhaps a ‘freeze edit’ function may assist here.
An invaluable – and presumably simple tool that I very much hope is in the pipeline is a desktop app to notify you of updates, new Wave invites and contacts. It would assist in streamlining the process and avoiding situations like the one I found myself in recently: IM-ing my team mate to ask why I still hadn’t received his email containing an urgently needed document, then discovering it had been sitting neglected in Wave for several hours*.
I’d estimate that we’re easily a year away from the release of a robust consumer-friendly version of Wave.
That said, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be one of the lucky few getting to play in the sandpit and even at this stage the enormous potential of the tool is evident.
Catch you in the tubes….firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Full disclosure: we were sitting next to each other at the time. IRL interaction is so passé.