Google Wave

Google WaveYou hear stories about how Google employees have hundreds and hundreds of new email to go through each and every day. It’s a curious thought that maybe Google Wave was invented by a group of employees who finally got fed up and wanted to create a more efficient alternative.

Google Wave is a very interesting tool but I see it more as a collaboration tool for decent sized teams rather than a consumer based email replacement. The fact is that the majority of email users might never be able to wrap their head around Wave, potentially the only people who can are engineers.

Hold on, I know what your thinking, “what about the young kids, they understand computers.” Well, don’t expect the younger generation to understand it any better than the adults do. Here’s an example, I was just talking with a 13 year old cousin who has had a computer in his house since he was in first or second grade. He recently got an iPod and doesn’t even understand how to add music to iTunes. Because of experiences like this, I find it very difficult to believe people who talk about the younger crowd being able to do practically anything on a computer. Usually this is only said by someone who knows absolutely nothing about computers, so even the child’s rudimentary knowledge is significantly greater than the one talking about it.

I’ve sat through the entire Google Wave presentation and found it very difficult to get through. I’m lead to believe by many technology journalists that this is going to change the world but I really can’t think of many uses for it in my life.

I walked away from the presentation wondering why users can’t just pick up the phone and talk. I know that some might think that the phone is a little old fashioned, it doesn’t have hyperlinks, images, etc. But the ability to convey an idea and get instant feedback from the person your explaining it to, including questions about areas that they don’t understand is why the phone is such a useful tool.

Google Wave has similar functionality by live updating the text as you type it to the Wave user on the other end of the conversation but in all honesty I would rather have this turned off for fear I would end up typing something that makes me look like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I would rather have a little bit of time to collect my thoughts and take the time to write them down in a way that precisely explains my thought, IM and email is fine for that, Wave doesn’t bring anything to the table to make that easier.

The feature that probably demoes the best (in my opinion) is the playback feature, which lets you take the message thread back to its beginning and step by step moving it forward in time to see each reply and edit happen in the order that it did, but wouldn’t it just be easier not to edit the quoted text and instead put your reply above the quoted text (possibly using quotes in your own section to give it some context, if it is really necessary).

If I was to pick one feature that might actually be useful to the regular home user I would have to choose the photo sharing features. Letting users drag and drop their photos into the browser to share them works very well and the ability for other Wave users to drag and drop their own photos into the same Wave to build a photo album of an event is incredibly useful. Everyone has about 5-10 friends that bring their camera with them wherever they go, but if multiple friends come to an event with their camera, being able to bring all those photos from everyone’s camera into one place is something that many people find very difficult. Google Wave has made that easy, it is just unfortunate that all of the other Google Wave features are most likely going to scare users away.

All of the extensions that they demoed were very cool, but again, this does nothing more than add more and more functionality adding more confusion to the service and ultimately make it more intimidating.

The only glimmer of hope I have for Google Wave is the use of it by other companies. Google is open sourcing the majority of Google Wave so that anyone can implement their own version, and change it how they want. This adds a tremendous amount of potential to the service. Someone could easily build a version of Google Wave that was a little friendlier to the non tech-savvy crowd. What’s even better is that Google has made it easy for different implementations of Wave to talk to users on other implementations of it.

Google Wave is certainly a tremendous engineering feat but I don’t think that it will ever become used as commonly as email and IM is.

Google Wave

Update 6/4/09: Yes, I did see the real time translation feature, which is great, I’m sure that many people who have friends that primarily speak foreign languages will use the heck out of Wave but I don’t know very many people in that situation (do you?) and honestly, wouldn’t it be nearly as easy just to use Yahoo Babel Fish? Is copy and paste so difficult?

Update 6/4/09: Another thought has crossed my mind about Google Wave. Why hasn’t anyone been discussing the possibility of scaling issues with this service? I know that Google is essentially the king of scaling but all of this constant real time updates makes me wonder if this thing is actually going to work when they start dealing with millions of users.

Of course the ability for Google to build multiple implementations of Wave on their own servers that can easily talk to each other will help quite a bit, throwing more servers at the problem seems like a simple answer, but just remember how often Gmail has been down in the past year, and I would venture to guess that the amount of messages in Gmail is significantly lower than the potential amount of messages that would be dealt with by Wave (this is assuming that it really takes off).

I don’t have a background in scaling web services but it seems to me that Google may end up having some trouble scaling Wave, and if they don’t (since they can throw tons of servers at it), imagine how tough it is going to be for a small startup to deal with if their public implementation of Wave starts to accumulate a lot of users.

Update 6/4/09: To clarify further, I have not actually used Google Wave. I am excited for it and do want to use it. I hope I will be able to get a lot of use out of Google Wave but am worried that I won’t be able to convince any of my non tech-savvy friends to actually use the service, and that is precisely why I don’t expect it to do well.

Update 7/22/09: PC Magazine says that so far Google has restricted Wave to only 6,000 or so developers but on September 30 Google plans to invite around 100,000 users to join the beta.

Update 10/14/09: Gina Trapani has published a list of Google Wave’s best use cases on Lifehacker. An interesting list but after reading through it I still don’t know why I or any other average home user would use it. The only items on the list that would apply have better options available, e.g. for updating loved ones on health issues you’d be better off just using email and/or text messaging or for organizing a busy schedule you’d probably be better off just using an online calendar.