A Reluctant Evaluation Of Google Wave

I’ve been using Google Wave quite a bit since I first got my preview account last fall. I was not as caught up in the initial hype as some people, but I was excited to try it, and my first impressions were enthusiastic. I had high hopes that Wave would be an alternate technology that could replace Facebook, and consolidate e-mail and instant messaging.

Wave has one very strong point; it is a very good collaborative editor. It makes for a terrific “private wiki.” If nothing else ever comes from Google Wave, I hope that wikis at least adopt the idea of “reply within the article.” Talkback pages are easy to ignore. Wiki discussion *needs* to be easy to ignore, but it should also be easy to respond to direct points within the wiki. Being able to insert widgets into wiki pages would also be advantages, but this doesn’t require the concept of Google Wave extensions; people have been plugging external widgets into web pages for years.

I’ve found this “private wiki” collaborative editing functionality extremely useful for trip planning and designing project specs. I believe it could also be used effectively in certain educational or tutoring scenarios, various brainstorming situations, and anything that requires collaborative design. Collaborative design, but not editing. Wave would be great for writing the outline to a new multi-author textbook. It might be useful for discussion of various chapters as the book is written. But it is not the place to write the actual text.

Google Wave is not an effective replacement for e-mail. Although GMail revolutionized e-mail with the concept of conversations, using Wave conversations feels clunky and slow. This may be a fixable flaw in the interface Google has provided, but I suspect it goes deeper. When I receive an ‘updated’ wave, I find myself scrolling through the whole Wave to find changes. Even though they are highlighted and easy to find, it does not feel as intuitive as just reading the new comment in an e-mail. While I often use quote reply in e-mail, it is only effective when the sender is snipping out only relevant portions to reply to. Wave doesn’t support snipping.

Google Wave is not an effective replacement for instant messaging. I find that chatting in a Wave is messy, unless I’ve installed the “RetroChat” extension. One problem is a fixable interface problem: blips are too big, and each message takes up too much room; you need a lot of screen space. The other problem is that people tend to respond to different topics in a wave at the point where the topic came up; when I’m chatting, I find I’m discussing three things with one person in one Wave. Theoretically, you could start a new wave for each topic, but chatting is supposed to be freeform. I find chatting in a Wave just makes me bounce around too much. In IM, if I’m discussing three different things, I interleave them (often enclosing different topics in brackets), and somehow, it makes more sense than in Wave.

I think the basic problem with Wave is that it allows you to do anything, anywhere in the wave. This provides a lot of flexibility, but it also brings responsibility; suddenly you have to *think* about the conversation and how it is formatted, instead of just having a conversation.

In spite of my disappointment, I’m going to continue to use Wave for a while; I think it is a step in the right direction, and that it will either be refined by the Google developers (or the community) to be a more usable tool, or it will be an inspiration to someone designing something better.

Edit: I forgot to mention, I’ve got several wave invites if anyone hasn’t gotten on the bandwagon yet.


  1. domanov says:

    Hey, I can use for a wave invite. Thank you very much!

  2. Thanks for this post Dusty. I was having trouble placing wave in context for myself, and this did it for me. I was using zim but have not switched to wave and will try it for a while.