Archive for January 2010

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.

Arch Schwag Shipping Delays

I promised last month that pre-orders on pens, case badges, and laptop stickers would be filling early in the New Year.

All three of these items are coming from different suppliers, and all three of them are late. I am still expecting all of them “any day now,” but I wanted to let anyone waiting for their items know that there’s going to be a bit more of a delay than I expected. I have about 40 orders outstanding, and I will try to fill them all as quickly as possible as the supplier orders arrive.

Items shipping from Zazzle, and other Arch Schwag items including Jewellery, wooden sculptures, and laptop bags should continue shipping on their normal schedules.

Managing my TODOs in 2010

Last May I wrote an article on my ideal todo list. I implemented it in offline-enabled format, but never got around to writing the server-side code and it didn’t get used. I’ve been using a paper-based day book effectively all year, but the book is filled up.

Today, starting a new year, I needed something quick to manage my todos. I’m on a bad internet connection, and don’t want a web-based app; even offline enabled apps are quirky. I decided to write something quick and dirty using the command line. Half an hour later, this is what I have:

  • All my todos are stored in text files in one directory.
  • Each textfile contains the things I want to accomplish in one day, named after that day in 2010-01-31 format so they show up in sorted order.
  • I edit the files in my favourite text editor and put a “*” beside ones I’ve completed.
  • I wrote some scripts to easily open “relative” names such as TODAY, YESTERDAY, TOMORROW, and TWODAYS side by side.
  • I named each script starting with a 1 so that they show up at the beginning of the listing. This is useful in gui file managers as I can double click those scripts to open them.
  • I don’t actually use gui file managers much, but I put a link to this one on my desktop with a fancy icon so I don’t forget my tasks.
  • When I opened the directory in nautilus, I discovered that I can zoom in on the files, and actually read their contents without opening them. I switched it to compact view so I can fit more TODOs in one screen.
  • I’ll probably have one extra text file for “things that need to be done eventually.”
  • I haven’t really tested it, but I intend to use it for the next week and revise it as necessary. I may have to whip up a web.py server to give a simple interface to it from my phone, or maybe ConnectBot will suffice. It’s not important at the moment, I don’t take the phone anywhere due to a complete lack of coverage.

    If it seems to be working as well as the daybook did last year, I’ll keep it up. If I tend to forget to use it, like other electronic solutions I’ve tried, I’ll get a new daybook.

    What little code there is, I’ve posted to github.