First Impressions: Google Wave

Google Wave is an interesting animal. Similar to the much ballyhooed Google Chrome OS, Wave has been the “it” thing for a while among select geek circles. To date, Google knows almost no wrong and so announcements of new products from the company are all treated as the coming of The Next Big Thing™. Compound this impression with the fact that just about any product beta (the name for a software product’s final test phase—the very earliest test product is known as an “alpha”) is an invite-only affair, being able to get in and use something as highly publicized as Wave was sort of like being on the VIP guest list to the hottest club in town. It doesn’t matter how it looks on the inside, being invited is all that matters.

I finally got my invite into the Wave beta recently (first from my brother-in-law—Thanks, Todd—and a day later the official one direct from Google, coincidentally enough). The juxtaposition of paragraph one and this makes it seem as if I’m saying I’m the cool guy in the club, but really I’m coming in at the very tail end of the early adopter train here. Wave’s been in beta for a month or two already, so I’m not exactly bleeding edge. Besides, the point of the intro was more the hype over the app than how I awesome I am (which is not something science can currently quantify).

Google Wave is, in a nutshell, Google’s re-imagining of e-mail. Instead of keeping e-mail in the basic format we know and love—which is rooted in the days when computers couldn’t do anything but display text—Google is opting for a dynamic and powerful collaboration tool. The problem they’ve run in to with Wave might be that they’ve created a tool too niche to really draw in the masses, and without the masses the application has minimal usefulness.

What are the key features for Wave?

– The Wave Itself – The Wave is so-called presumably because of the way it flows and adapts to conversations and participants. Messages in Wave and displayed in the standard way.





But instead of being locked into this rigid structure, you can also at any point scroll back and add comments to earlier items. Things will then be indented thusly.



—-Another Reply



Inviting participants also isn’t a matter of CCing them on a message and then forcing them to hunt backwards through a message to see what’s happening. They are essentially just brought in to see the entire Wave show. They can scroll through the entire talk. The idea here is that you want them to see everything—and not just the talk starting from where you messaged them. To this end, our second feature.

– Playback – The Playback is a way to review the conversation in the proper order. Because Wave allows you to backtrack and add comments where you please, it could get tricky just reading things top to bottom. What if a comment at the top requires knowing of some details shared down at the end? Well, Playback is literally watching a text movie of what everyone in the Wave has been saying in the order they said it. It’s a neat feature to get newbies to a Wave up to speed, and probably my favorite aspect of Wave so far.

– Message Widgets – Gmail has already blazed a trail of add-ons and widgets. In fact, if Wave doesn’t support many of the features I’ve come to know and love from Gmail, it will likely be a deal-breaker for me (I mean, come on, Gmail actually has an add-on where, at certain times of day, you can require it to ask you a series of math questions before you send a message. It’s to prevent drunk, late night e-mails. You can’t beat that). What Wave offers, though, is more features embedded into the message itself. The intro messages you get when you sign into Wave for the first time have embedded YouTube videos, for example. I recently got a message from my brother-in-law showing an embedded Google Map of a place we were supposed to meet up, with an option below to register with a Yes/No/Maybe for our “event”. Who needs Evite anymore with slick built-in action like that?

– Live Typing – This is currently something that cannot be turned off, and very desperately needs to be something that users can toggle. Wave is really a hybrid of e-mail and instant message. If you are sending a Wave to a friend who is currently also using Wave, they will be able to see what you type to them in real time. This means that every single typo or slip will be something your Wave buddies will see. The idea from Google is that in conversations on-line, much of the time spent is just waiting to see your buddy’s message. But the ability to view their typing live will allow you to formulate and begin to respond while they’re still writing, making the conversation speed along better. But, along with the notion of giving new invitees to the Wave access to the entire message instead of just what has happened after they were invited in, Wave isn’t about privacy. The notion is that you want everyone involved to see everything at all times. So if you accidentally write “I go tit” or “I’ll look into the details of that user acocunt”, your friends will get to see that before you can correct it. A small thing? Yes—until you’re using Wave to communicate as a professional. And let’s not think about the nightmare scenario of not realizing you’re in the wrong window and copy/pasting your password into a Wave. You don’t have to have sent it to someone for them to be able to see it. Bad news.

The major killer for Wave right now is how limited it is. Right now you can only communicate with other Wave users. It stands alone. E-mails cannot be sent to other services or received from them. This seems like a major feature to be missing even if you consider this is a beta product. I’m a big fan of the Wave format, the playback and the features embedded directly into messages. I’m not a fan of the way Wave forces you to be into full disclosure at all times, mostly due to the embarrassment factors in play. However, if Google can integrate Wave smoothly into the rest of the world, it could be awesome.

Here’s a video explaining Wave with some nice, you know, video to it:

And an amusing screen for maintenance I got tonight:


  1. #1 by Anne on November 16, 2009 - 2:19 PM

    Jim has Google Wave also so I’ll let him know that you and Todd are on it. I think I’m going to wait until it’s ready for mainstream.

  2. #2 by Eric Thomas on November 16, 2009 - 8:45 PM

    Just got my invite a few days ago myself. Any others that I would know on there?

  3. #3 by mscarpel on November 16, 2009 - 9:03 PM

    @Eric Thomas
    There’s barely anyone I know on there, actually.

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