The new communication Wave isn't what you think it is

google_wave_logo.pngI haven’t seen this much hype about a Google product since Gmail launched a few years ago. Invitations to use Google Wave have been trickling out to eager users for a couple weeks now and I managed to secure one thanks to Gavin Magid who sent me one of his invites. Like many of you, I watched the demonstration video a while ago and I have been pretty excited about Wave since then although probably not for the same reasons you may have been excited about it.

Wave was touted as a replacement for email and a cure for world hunger almost from the beginning. This has created some really unrealistic expectations, more in the minds of email addicts than people fighting world hunger (unlike the email addicts, they knew immediately Wave wasn’t going to fix world hunger). I know some people have said that the Rasmussens said that Wave would replace email but I don’t remember that (Lars Rasmussen did tell the Wall Street Journal that Wave is a modern version of email though). What I do remember is how they demonstrated that Wave could revolutionise how we collaborate. Unfortunately there is so much hype about this “email replacement” that there has been a fair amount of negativity about the actual product now that more and more people have had a chance to work with it. Scoble initially took a pretty dim view of Wave (also be sure to read his follow up post about how the email metaphor is unhelpful) although I think he pretty much summed up Wave’s value (in my opinion, at least) when he said the following:

See, the first thing you notice is that you can see people chatting live in Google Wave.

That’s really cool if you are working on something together, like a spreadsheet or a Word document.

But it’s a productivity sink if you are trying to just communicate with other people.

It also ignores the productivity gains that we’ve gotten from RSS feeds, Twitter, and FriendFeed.

His focus on Wave as a social networking tool is representative of a number of perspectives I have come across already. A couple people I have been testing Wave with have commented on Wave’s value as a Twitter replacement (Really? Is Twitter really something every vaguely similar tool has to replicate?). I think those people are missing the point, just like their email focussed colleagues.

That being said, Wave can replace email for our collaboration oriented tasks. I see Wave as a potential Google Docs+ service. While it lacks decent text formatting tools at the moment (ok, remember Google Wave is still very much a preview version at the moment and is actively being developed and improved) I see this as being a terrific way to collaborate in a team on a document or project. Like Louis Gray, I don’t see Wave being suitable for mass communication, it just gets way too crazy and will only take more time just trying to track multiple branches of conversation threads. Here is a quick demo I made which will give you an idea how chaotic a wave can become:

I’m still messing around with Wave and the product is clearly still in early days but I can see this becoming a tremendously helpful collaboration tool in my business. I work with people in different cities and countries and having Wave available through Google Apps would enable us to collaborate both realtime and asynchronously pretty effectively. Bear in mind that Google Docs already has collaboration functionality built into it (heck, Google Docs is designed around collaboration) but Wave just does it so much better based on what I’ve seen.

I mentioned the debate about Wave as an email replacement earlier in this post. I don’t agree with that characterization when it comes to run of the mill email. Email is built on well established standards and is pervasive. Wave is built on a mix of open protocols and what seems to be a new set of protocols (I could be wrong here) and while Wave is meant to be federated, you’re basically asking people to roll out support for a new infrastructure to replace email where the benefits for certain types of email are not clear.

On the other hand I do see Wave as replacing email for some forms of collaboration. Just like wikis had the potential to change email behaviour by presenting opportunities to collaborate on documents and projects on the wiki rather than using loads of emails, Wave has a similar promise. In fact it is probably more useful to think of Wave as being more like a combination of a wiki and a document service than email per se. Email is really a means to communicate ideas, changes to documents and so on. Wave is where you can actually do all that work without using email as an intermediary.

Now what Wave may have been intended for and what people actually use it for are two very different things. Twitter wasn’t meant to be a chat service and yet that is exactly what we have been using it for (well, in addition to the other stuff). If you are planning to use Wave to replace Twitter or have rampant email conversations with loads of people you are going to become pretty frustrated pretty quickly. If you are planning to use Wave for focussed collaboration then you are on to something.

Ultimately we are going to have to wait a little longer to see how Wave impacts on our activities online. The “new, shiny” quality will fade soon enough and if it doesn’t help us become more productive it will quickly fall by the wayside. I don’t think it will but I do think that, despite all the hype, Wave will probably become a little like Gmail and Google Docs and part of our workflow wallpaper. Its probably better that way too. I don’t want to focus too much on the tool but rather on the work it helps me get done that much better.

Enthusiast, marketing strategist, writer, and photographer. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad. Allergic to stupid

  1. Of course it's chaotic – you have one wave with everyone in it and the topic is “Testing Wave”. That's like inviting everyone in the office to a meeting about “stuff”. In real use, you could have normal email conversations like you do now, with the benefit that if you invite someone new to the conversation you don't have to forward all the previous mails.

    As for live updates, it's up to you to decide if you are online, in IM mode, I'll answer that now, or offline, in email mode, flag that and deal with it later. Nothing new, apart from having to use several apps whose total extent of integration is cut and paste.

    Email has been sick for a long long time, it's time to let it go.

  2. You may be absolutely correct. Perhaps we need more time working with Wave to see how/if it can replace email completely. It will really need to be in widespread use or we'll see a disconnect between those who use Wave and those who don't and conversations could easily break down.

  3. Yeah, its taking me a while to get used to it, must admit.

    I thought Mr Scoble's last point of his first post was most important: “DO TRY THE API if you are a developer. From what I’m seeing that’s where the real value in Google Wave will come, but we haven’t seen enough apps yet so end users won’t find much here to play with yet.”

    We can't judge it based on this interface that Google “slapped” together [I used the term loosely] and it'll be a while until we see the other apps, but when they start coming I think it will be highly exciting.

  4. Still waiting for a kind soul to send an invite my way…

    *nudge nudge wink wink say no more*

    Generally it seems that Wave has massive amounts of potential which is still to be realised.

  5. Wave is not really a replacement for email. It does somethings very well but clearly the focus is on collaboration.

    If email were invented today, it would look more like TrulyMail. Here is a company which re-invented email. Sure they have few users but that will change with time.

    We all know the problems with email: You don't know if/when your messages are delivered, too much spam, your messages are not really private, etc. TrulyMail solves these problems.

    The only problem is that it is a complete replacement for email (it actually has nothing to do with email and uses its own servers). Their latest release includes integration with email to make the transition a bit easier for those of us who live in the real world.

    Still, I'm looking forward to Wave going public. I hope they don't keep it in beta for seven years like gmail was.

What do you think?

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