PluggedIn: Struggling to ride Google Wave

March 25, 2010

google wave 2

What will Google do about China? Can Google’s Android defeat the iPhone? Important questions all, but I’m still curious about Google Wave, and wondering: do I want to use it?

Now undergoing testing with a limited number of users, the web-based email/word processing software was introduced last year, but it should begin open access later this year.

At its heart, Google Wave is a document living on the Internet, that can be edited by anyone collaboratively. What that means is a person can be working on one part of a document while his co-worker is changing another.

For the moment, this is a technology only available through Google and by invitation only. To be sure, my contact list has grown by leaps and bounds over the past six months — but no one is Waving with me nearly at all. And those who have don’t really know what to do with this new service. A lot of the early users — myself included — wax on at parties about tools for faster collaboration and flexible access through a computer or an Apple iPhone, Research in Motion Blackberry, Motorola Droid, Palm Pre, or some other new device.

Here is a kid – I think – explaining how to use it:

When I first heard about the service, I was understandably excited. For anyone whose life is dominated by the ideas of text, documents and collaboration, Wave seemed like a breath of fresh air.

But in reality, I’ve struggled to find a way to fit it into my routine.

When I first signed up with the service in October, I had few contacts with whom I could Wave, and only one seemed interested. But all we did was treat it like email, sending messages back and forth.

Instead of the typical email “reply,” people leave comments on specific lines within a Wave, or they can add text to the bottom in a post-it note fashion, not unlike Microsoft Word’s comment system.

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After a few faux-email back-and-forth Waves with friends I found myself staring at the screen feeling rather sad: I was treating my new toy like an old tool.

After a while, it was clear that Wave’s strength was in collaboration with multiple people. Changes to Wave documents are shown instantly on co-worker’s computers, with highlighting around the words as a visual cue to the latest changes. The result is that my friend in Washington D.C. can punch up a rough outline for an idea while I fill in the details from my computer San Francisco, all at the same time.

It’s clever, although the more people who work on one document at once, the more colors crowd onto the screen. When I was Waving with one or two people, it was fine. Larger Waves with multiple editors, can get a little confusing. Google says it’s working to fix that.

There is also a “replay” button — Wave automatically saves all changes made to a document and can, at a button click, reveal previous versions of what was written.

And there are functions that can be added into Waves, such as YouTube clips, live maps, and even the ability to translate typed text on the fly. The translation tool alone is enough to inspire day-dreams of multi-national collaboration without all the hassles of language barriers to slow down work.

I tried writing this column in Wave. The operative word being “tried.” My original thought was to write it together with my colleague, Alexei Oreskovic, and post the final product with all the changes and discussions we had. We immediately hit two hiccups: he uses Internet Explorer on his laptop — a product which Wave does not support without extra software — and posting the Wave on the Media File Blog so that everyone can see it is rather hard.

The most telling moment of my experience so far, however, was when I logged into the service one day to find a message from a friend who had just opened his account, saying “I got my Google Wave invite — now what?”

Indeed.

So I asked Google’s Lars Rasmussen, who spearheaded Wave development along with his brother Jens, about my Wave-related loneliness. He said many people initially struggle to understand the new technology until they have what he calls a “wave moment,” in which they accomplish something they couldn’t do as well with existing tools.

For him, the Wave moment happened when they realized morning emails about the team’s whereabouts were unnecessary. Now, they just Wave it.

“Instead of sending a message that you can’t make it in, you just edit a document of people who can’t make it in today,” he said.

Cute, I thought, but not enough to convince Reuters I.T. it was time to make the switch. Still, Google said that roughly 1 million people log into Wave per week. Hopefully they’ve had better luck than me.

Heres a video from the Google folks explaining Wave:

I’m sad to report that my Wave account has gone mostly unused, save for the few erratic times I decide to give it another try before I give up again and continue the Wave-less circle of geek-dom.

Rasmussen said that Google Wave has a lot of potential to make people more productive, “but it takes effort.”

For some, it may be too late. I don’t suppose a website called “GOOGLE WAVE SUCKS” needs much explaining.

Despite my woefully unproductive Waving, I can still see the potential for collaborative reporting, editing and note-taking. Every time I think about Wave, I daydream about a world where the front page of prominent news sites can be “replayed” a-la Google Wave, to see how a story is updated and with what new information.

Google’s Gmail was in its “beta” testing period for five years. Google Maps, and Google Docs went through similarly prolonged “beta” periods. It’s safe to say that Google Wave, which is in the “preview” stage, will not be positioned to take over Gmail any time soon.

(photos: Flickr; Videos via Youtube)

One comment

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GROUP SUPPORT! That’s the key to Google Wave, and once they implement it correctly, I can see more and more people using Google Wave.

Think about Google Groups or Yahoo Groups or other forums – it is often ridiculously hard to read conversations because of all the duplication (replies include the entire thread!), and no one can reply to a post directly; all replies are after all other replies. Google Wave is already superior in all these regards, but right now there’s no way to send a wave to a pre-defined set of people (a group), and for people who are added later to the group to see those waves. Once those things are implemented, Google Wave will be perfect for Groups, and then maybe people will use it for other things as well.

Posted by ctown | Report as abusive

[...] PluggedIn: Struggling to Ride Google Wave (Reuters)What will Google do about China? Can Google’s Android defeat the iPhone? Important questions all, but I’m still curious about Google Wave, and wondering: do I want to use it? Now undergoing testing with a limited number of users, the web-based email/word processing software was introduced last year, but it should begin open access later this year. [...]