Wave Impressions

Wave logo.png
A few months ago, I blogged a bit about Google Wave, and how it might live up to the hype of being the successor to email. Now that I've had a month or so to play with it, I wanted to share my initial reactions.
Wave logo.png
A few months ago, I blogged a bit about Google Wave, and how it might live up to the hype of being the successor to email. Now that I've had a month or so to play with it, I wanted to share my initial reactions. Short story: Google Wave is an odd duck, that takes getting used to. As it is today, it is not that revolutionary -- in fact, it's kind of redundant. The jury is still out.

If you haven't gotten a Wave invite and want to try it, now is the time to query your Twitter and Facebook friends, because invites are being offered and we've passed the initial, competitive "gimme" stage. They should be easier to find if you speak up. And, once you get there (or if you are there and don't know what to do), there are some excellent ways to start learning and playing, which I'll discuss below.


To put Wave in perspective, I clearly remember my first exposure to email. I bought my first computer in 1987: a Compaq "portable". The thing weighed about 60 pounds, sported a tiny green on black screen, and had two 5 and 1/4 inch floppy drives for applications and storage). Along with the PC, I got a 1200 BPS modem, which allowed me o dial up local bulletin boards. And, as I poked around, I discovered the 1987 version of email: the line editor.

On those early BBSes, emails were sent by typing one line (80 characters, max) of text and hitting "enter". Once "enter" was pressed, that line was sent to the BBS. No correcting typos, no rewriting the sentence. It was a lot like early typewriters, before they added the ability to strike out previously submitted text.

But, regardless of the primitive editing capabilities, email was a revelation. It was a new medium; a form of communication that, while far more awkward than telephone communications, was much more immediate than postal mail. And it wasn't long before more sophisticated interfaces and editors made their way to the bulletin boards.

Google Wave is also, at this point, awkward. To use it, you have to be somewhat self-confident right from the start, as others are potentially watching every letter that you type. And while it's clear that the ability to co-edit and converse about a document in the same place is powerful, it's messy. Even if you get over the sprawling nature of the conversations, which are only minimally better than what you would get with ten to twenty-five people all conversing in one Word document, the lack of navigational tools within each wave is a real weakness.

wave example.png


I'm particularly aware of these faults because I just installed and began using Confluence, a sophisticated, enterprise Wiki (free for nonprofits) at my organization. While we've been told that Wave is the successor to email, Google Docs and, possibly, Sharepoint, I have to say that Confluence does pretty much all of those things and is far more capable. All wikis, at their heart, offer collaborative editing, but the good ones also allow for conversations, plug-ins and automation, just as Google Wave promises. But with a wiki, the canvas is large enough and the tools are there to organize and manage the work and conversation. With Wave, it's awfully cramped, and somewhat primitive in comparison.

Too early to tell?

Of course, we're looking at a preview. The two things that possibly differentiate Wave from a solid wiki are the "inbox" metaphor and the automation capabilities. Waves can come to you, like email, and anyone who has tried to move a group from an email list to a web forum knows how powerful that can be. And Wave's real potential is in how the "bots", server-side components that can interact with the people communicating and collaborating, will integrate the development and conversation with existing data sources. It's still hard to see all of that in this nascent stage. Until then, it's a bit chicken and egg.

Wave starting points

There are lots of good Wave resources popping up, but the best, hands down, is Gina Trapini's Complete Guide, available online for free and in book form soon. Gina's blog is a must read for people who find the types of things I write about interesting.

Once you're on wave, you'll want to find Waves to join, and exactly how you do that is anything but obvious. the trick is to search for a term "such as "nonprofit" or "fundraising" and add the phrase "with:public". A good nonprofit wave to start with is titled, appropriately, "The Nonprofit Technology Wave".

Wave search.png

If you haven't gotten a Wave invite and want to, now is the time to query your Twitter and Facebook friends, because invites are being offered and we've passed the initial "gimme" stage. In fact, I have ten or more to share (I'm peterscampbell on most social networks and at Google's email service).


I'll rehash somewhat a

I'll rehash somewhat a previous comment I've made: as someone who migrated the entire nonprofit kicking and screaming into Google Apps, the UI of Wave is pretty lousy. I can;t even think about using this in an enterprise until Google gets serious about making this a usable tool, a la Confluence, or SocialText. The limitations are too great.

All that said, I've waved with friends (and have invites if anyone needs them) and it's got a "neato" factor. Still, I'm not sold on the wave concept, all the Youtube videos of Lincoln's Wave notwithstanding. for me, the jury is still out.

Okay, here's my plan: once

Okay, here's my plan: once I've had a better chance to evaluate Confluence, I'm going to write about it here. Then I'm going to follow up with a Confluence/Google Wave blow-by-blow comparison. Because Confluence really does come very close to encompassing the Wave feature set in a much more usable package.

I can drag and drop a file into my Confluence Wiki (it supports WebDav and there's a Firefox Plugin). There's a Salesforce plugin, that can pull records into Confluence pages and integrate with the reporting. And there's Sharepoint and MS Office integration. You can use Sharepoint lists and other web parts - including, maybe, third party web parts - in Confluence.

I'm somewhat unconvinced that Wave is a preferable alternative, or that it will be. But, if there is a distinguisher, I think you're close to it; it will be in the ways that Wave can interact with database records, particularly in the way bots can look up data and interact real-time with Wave communicators. The question is, will Confluence, and other enterprise Wikis, incorporate that type of intelligence/data mining as well? If they do, they'll do it with a much better collaborative platform than Wave is today.

So I'm asking - why is Wave better than a full-featured Wiki?

I've used Wave for both

I've used Wave for both personal and professional communications. Right now, there's not much that can't be done with email that could happen in a Wave between friends.

However, at work, where we have collaborative editing processes taking place across the organization, Wave appears to have potential to shine. Especially if you consider that adding documents and files is drag/drop, and its connections to the other Google standard bearers such as Docs. Most interesting to me is the Wave's potential for increasing a view on constituents - there's already a Salesforce App being developed for Wave, and I could envision a highly linked set of Waves, person/organization records, and Google Docs.

That said, navigation is a bear right now, and frankly on older hardware Wave is practically unusable.

I'd also welcome a unified Wave/GMail "In" box with the features of both and the ability to break out individual waves as needed to work on them - why Google is keeping waves so cramped in their layout is somewhat of a mystery to me as well.