First picking the moment to ask an account from Google, then waiting it for two months and looking for a time slot to dig into Google Wave and experiment with it… OK, finally I’m ready to share my first impressions.
Let me start with the conclusion: a useful thing, too bad I didn’t join earlier.
Now to the details. The primary references:
A quote from the above: “Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration.” Got it? Damned if I did. So let me compare it with familiar things. Google Wave consists of… hm… waves. In order to avoid confusion I’ll call them “gwaves” and the service itself “GW”.
So what is a gwave? Please imagine a MS Word text. Now imagine that:
- It’s stored on a Google server and you access it via GW webpage from your browser.
- Formatting features are very basic: fonts, colors, margins, headers, lists, images. You may have attachments though like you do with email.
- All changes are recoded (who, what, when).
- It is filled with comments, questions, answers, discussions. Not aside of the text like in Word but framed text blocks right in it. Formatting capabilities are the same as for the main text.
- The text and comments can be deleted by any participant so you can get the accurate text output at the end if you wish. But all the moves are recorded and there is a replay button showing how the document progressed.
- Participants are the gwave creator and other GW users he invited into the gwave.
- The real-time means this: when one participant is doing something with the gwave you can see how letters are typed and words are added to the document, provided that your GW page is open.
- Collaboration means that I can enter text into one section while others fill theirs and in so doing we throw each other comments, remarks and questions. No locking and hopefully no conflicts, thanks to real-time communication (didn’t try to provoke conflicts though).
Is such a combination better enough than MS Word + email to justify studying another tool? I believe yes. GW avoids the questions like “where is the latest version of the document?” or “does it contain my last edits?”. As Keith Swenson rightly points out (here and here) we are exposed to “email addiction” so this is the right cure.
The first gwaves I experimented with:
- At work we discussed whether to accept an invitation to a conference. We decided to go and hence the discussion went further: the event schedule, assignments, brainstorming, etc. connecting more and more people. Without GW everything would have been in the email - much less convenient and efficient.
- At home we discussed the movie player upgrade with the son. It lasted a few days: defining the criteria, comparing models and looking for a good price. Again, more handy than email indeed.
What else a gwave can be compared with:
- A forum thread. A gwave with large number of comments resembles it. Comments hierarchy (comments to the comments) is supported. The difference is thatyou can edit the main text and comments any time.
- A photo site with comments. You can publish a photo as a gwave and discuss it with friends.
- A Document Management System in general and wiki in particular. The same teamwork but the difference is the real-time in GW. The discussion is not on a separate page like in wiki but embedded into the text. I like both features. Trivial access policy: members can do everything, the rest nothing. No contents pages or rigid classification, only tags. Conclusion: wiki is for memories and GW is for ad-hoc temporary things.
- A bugtracking system - it’s arranged by cases, too with attached files and ongoing discussions. By contrast, GW has no structure which is hardly acceptable in bugtracking.
- Very easy to learn, the user interface is problem-free. Only one essential hint: double-click into the text body to edit it or add a comment.
- Extensibility. Plugins (gadgets) are actively developed by third parties; didn’t get into it yet. By default there are Google maps and voting (yes/no/maybe). So if you are thinking about skiing with a company of friends then you’ll be able to mark the place and discuss who goes, who doesn’t not, when exactly etc.
Cons and questions. (Some of them may be my problems rather than GW’s because I didn’t explore it fully yet.)
- No notification of changes in your gwaves. If the GW page is opened in a browser, the tab title indicates changes: “Google Wave (3)” means there are thress changes in the waves you follow. People comment on this intensively on GW’s ideas webpage. Some say that Google tries to kill email this way. Dont think so, they must be realists and consider it as a supplement, not replacement. So I hope to see email and RSS notifications in the final version. In fact I’d prefer the latter because I keep the Google Reader page open anyway.
- Permanent address (URL) of the gwave is another must-have. Right now I can’t see how to integrate a gwave into the web e.g. to embed the link into email message or blog post. By linking to a gwave we’ll be able to add ad-hoc functionality wherever we may need it. SAP has made it with the Gravity plugin (BPMN designer for GW). Yet I believe it’s more natural to go opposite way - it’s much easier to reference a gwave say by the “Link” field of MS Project task rather than implement Project as a plugin. <updated>gwave’s URL is displayed in the browser address field when a gwave is selected. That easy!</updated>
- Numbered lists are not supported. It’s weird because there is a bulleted list in the formatting toolbar.
- The biggest problem: all gwave participants must be registered GW users. This is quite a barrier. By contrast, you don’t need an account to start using Google maps or search. The Google mail, too doesn’t require the adressee to have gmail account. Google’s picasaweb photobank lets you send a “secret” reference to your private album to grant access to it - it’d be great if something like this was implemented in GW finally to let a casual participant without permanent account see the gwave. I am sure Google will do something to facilitate GW adoption.
Now how to get a GW account? To start with, you should have a google mailbox (@gmail.com). The easiest way is to ask someone already having GW account - each of us have 25 invitations. Alternatively you can apply directly to Google but be prepared to wait. It may happen Google will make the service generally available before you got your invitation. By contrast, an invitation from existing GW account comes almost immediately.
- Google Wave 101
- The Complete Guide to Google Wave
- Ultimate List of Google Wave Gadgets and Tools
- How to Install a Google Wave Gadget Extension