Experimentation, Social Media, Technology, Tools, World of Tomorrow

Google Wave: When More Is Too Much

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Image by liako via Flickr

Google Wave was built to answer the question, “How would email look if it were invented today?”  But Wave goes far beyond email-like functionality and tries to get to the heart of communication in all the forms that we’ve come to know.  Wave is part email, part IM, part Wiki, and part document management, to name a few.

I’ve been experimenting for a couple of weeks now.  After a slow start in almost complete isolation, I connected with a very active user, John Blossom.  John had already amassed quite a following.   Seeing how an active group is using Google Wave proved fascinating.  There were blogs that had been transformed into waves,  personal profiles constructed as waves, public waves instructing others on how to get started, and waves that identified known bugs and workarounds.

However, finding people is quite difficult.  You must either know someone’s exact login ID or happen to see them on a wave.  Since many users do not have pictures and use ID’s that are not readily identifiable as them, this is exceptionally frustrating.  There is no way to search for users and no integration with email or other apps.  Wave isn’t even integrated with Gmail. I actually found several of the people with whom I’m connected through Facebook, Twitter, and blogs where they mentioned they were on Google Wave and offered to connect with others.

Once you have connected with others, if you don’t use Google Wave continually, you have no way of knowing that someone has added you to a wave or tried to interact with you in any way.  Again, there is no integration to IM, email, or any other applications, not even Google applications.

Another frustration is that it is very difficult to get started.  Google Wave is a cacophony of functionality that doesn’t even try to reveal its value or purpose to the user. You have to be determined to use Google Wave in order to make it work for you. Even then, since it’s a “preview,” the functions you try to use don’t always work.  Being a new user you are left wondering if the function doesn’t work or if you’re just not doing it right.

What could make it more useful?

  • Integration with email clients, contacts, and other collaborative spaces (Google applications would be a great start: Google Docs, Spaces, Gmail, IM, etc.)
  • A more intuitive user interface that works in all browsers equally as well
  • The ability to easily find others
  • Configuration options that allow a user to more precisely structure their view
  • Some pre-configured views that optimize screen layout based on what the user is trying to accomplish

All that being said, there is the potential for intense collaboration on Google Wave.  As it is now, it’s just too vast and complicated to be useful. It’s currently a drain on productivity, not a boon to it.

Steve Rubel put it well:

So definitely get excited about Wave. It is way cool. It is real time – where the world is going. But, for now, it does create more problems than it solves. Let’s see if Wave 2.0 fixes that.

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About Ann Michael

Ann Michael is President of Delta Think, a publishing consultancy focused on innovation in product strategy, development, and content management. Delta Think has worked with many major commercial and non-profit scholarly publishers as they clarified their business objectives, defined new content products and business models, re-architected their content processes, introduced new tools and technologies, and developed the skills and expertise needed to be successful in an ever changing publishing environment.

Discussion

20 thoughts on “Google Wave: When More Is Too Much

  1. I was at the live Google Wave demo at London Science online earlier this year and have to say I was impressed (The opinion was very split in the room). This demo had three people on stage, led by Cameron Neylon, all writing and editing a wave (which could be formatted to be an academic paper). Not only that they used “bots”, to automatically go off to various databases and bring back chemical formulas and references to enhance the document.
    I was lucky enough to get an invite to Google Wave, and so were some of my colleagues, so I automatically had people that I could collaborate and try things out with. I have to say I am impressed with what I have seen and can see that this has the potential to be a paradigm shift in how academic workflows are achieved. Wave has the potential to give use real-time global collaboration. It has massive potential for both academics and publishers. Multiple authors can collaborate on a paper (the current trend is for more and more collaboration to occur on papers). Also, looking at this from a publishers point of view, there is potential to undertake the whole peer-review process within Wave (if double blinding can be implemented). I have to admit that this is the first thing since the launch of RSS that has got my full attention. I just hope that Google Wave takes off and becomes part (or even supersedes RSS and Twitter) in my workflow.
    In addition, we should class Wave as an Alpha2 release. Google are building the platform around the restricted user base, effectively seeing how we are using it and allowing us to try and break it. However that said, we can already see a load of developers on Wave and there are rumours that Wave will have an App Store launching in the future.
    Here is a list of some of the earliest research related bots that are present on Wave that readers might find of use:
    Chemspidey (chemspidey@appspot.com) – takes a chemical name and pastes in a link to the appropriate entry on ChemSpider
    Janey (janey-robot@appspot.com) – query the Journal Name Estimator with blip text.
    Graphy (graph-wave@appspot.com) – automatically draws graphs from columns of data
    Igor (helpmeigor@appspot.com) – reference formatting robot from the Connotea Team.
    CDKitty (chemdevelkit@appspot.com) – cheminformatics functionality
    Fnordlinky (fnordlinks@appspot.com) – replaces “PMID ” with a citation from PubMed
    watexy (watexy@appspot.com) – replaces LaTeX between $$ by images.
    SynBioWave Robot for Synthetic Biology (synbiowave@appspot.com)
    BLAST Robot (blastrobot@appspot.com)
    CodeBot – A Coding Robot for Google Wave (codebot-wave@appspot.com)
    Calcbot – A calculator for Wave (calcbot@appspot.com)
    Wikify – A simple wiki research bot (wikifier@appspot.com)

    Posted by Philip Roberts | Oct 30, 2009, 11:46 am
    • “Wave has the potential to give use real-time global collaboration. It has massive potential for both academics and publishers.”

      I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a ton of potential here – it’s just too time consuming to get productive and, as you point out, you need to have people with whom to collaborate.

      I’m certainly NOT advocating dismissing Wave out of hand, but it’s not there yet and, for mass adoption, will have to get “there” to be useful.

      Thanks for the GREAT list of research related bots!

      Posted by ann michael | Oct 30, 2009, 11:55 am
      • Before commenting, I just want to say that I work in an editorial role (not IT) within STM publishing, and don’t work for Google. These views, opinions and musings are mine and not meant to express those of anyone else, or my employer. Finally, I’ve not had an opportunity to use Google’s implementation of a Wave client. Whether to write as “wave” or “Wave”. Not sure.
        Anyway, my interest in this platform is Wave’s potential to totally revolutionise scientific communications and collaborations, and force a fundamental re-think, or re-design, of many of the workflows and processes at the core of STM publishing. The key to the success of Wave does not rest upon any attempt to replace e-mail but in inspiring tens of thousands of developers, professional or amateur, to write some great tools. Those tools may also take advantage of the protocols which permit multiple, simultaneous (near real-time…) collaborative views of a Wave. Typing text is one example. The examples surrounding Google Maps are more interesting glimpses of the possibilities. I am certain that as we write, there are innumerable highly talented individuals, coding like fury, to create “robots”, “gadgets”, new Wave clients and maybe even wave server implementations. Actually, there are already new Wave clients being released, one example is Waveboard for the Mac. Time will see a zillion others, no doubt. With regard to e-mail etc, how long is it going to be before someone integrates standard e-mail-like services into a Wave solution? Emailey robot and other e-mail tools are likely to be high on some developer’s hit list. E-mail to a Wave, e-mail from a Wave. Using e-mail to invite people to join your Wave etc. Just like you can e-mail a colleague with your Google Docs link, seeking input, but integrated into a particular Wave client/server infrastructure, maybe. But how they join your Wave, what they have “to do” to join the party, security etc is open to solutions, I guess. In all of this, recall that Google are opening this technology for others to develop Wave-based infrastructures and solutions. Google Wave, as we see it now, is Google’s own Alpha-stage (reference?) implementation (Google’s Wave Client, Google’s Wave Server) of a suite of technologies and network protocols which, together, comprise Wave.
        In Google’s own words
        “Google Wave introduces a new communication and collaboration platform built around hosted conversations called waves. The wave model enables people to communicate and work together in new and more effective ways. The Google Wave Federation Protocol is the underlying network protocol for sharing waves between wave providers.”
        And the interesting part is “…wave providers”. Again, on the site that discusses the Wave Federation Protocol “… anyone can build a wave server and interoperate, much like anyone can run their own SMTP server.”
        From what I’ve read, watched and listened to, it is clear that other “solution providers” can, and will, develop highly innovative systems and solutions constructed on top of this open platform. Gadgets, widgets, robots, clients and server solutions will come, if this technology successfully inspires developers and delivers “monetizing opportunites”. If it does, then what we currently see is, for sure, most certainly not what we are (eventually) going to get. My own personal view on the possible affect of Wave on STM publishing is best illustrated by borrowing a couple of lines from one of my favourite songs (for the purposes of review…)
        “But oh, in these times of change,
        you know that it’s no longer true.
        So we’re comin’ out of the department,
        ’cause there’s something we forgot to say to you.
        We say, researchers will be doin’ it for themselves”

        Posted by GMD | Oct 31, 2009, 7:34 am
      • Just a follow-up to my post. Tim O’Reilly writes a superb overview of Wave, here:

        http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/05/google-wave-what-might-email-l.html

        Well worth reading.

        Posted by GMD | Oct 31, 2009, 12:01 pm
      • The O’Reilly article is really good – very thorough.

        Again, my point about Wave gets back to the use cases, for what you describe (GMD) Wave could be amazing.

        For some things though a little latency isn’t a bad thing – for example, it would be chaos to have a room full of people all talking at the same time but yet trying to participate in the same conversation. You’d at minimum need a break to go back and catch up on what everyone said.

        That’s how I often feel in Wave everyone’s talking, I’ve stepped away (like to work!) and missed progress on the thread. Now it will take an hour investment to catch up again (if I just skim).

        If my use case was a collaboration where a conversation was becoming a document (as some have described) then the catching up I mention above wouldn’t be as onerous because the current state of the conversation/document would always be enough.

        Perhaps the core of my issue in this particular use case is that those with whom I’m interacting are continuing long threaded conversations. It’s like having a never ending IM stream with threads.

        The way people try to use Wave will have to evolve with the tool – but, I still think it’s going to take some time for the masses to work in it effectively.

        Posted by ann michael | Nov 1, 2009, 10:31 am
        • I agree that my ambitions for Google Wave workflows are high. However, as pointed out by Charlie Osmond over on http://blog.freshnetworks.com/2009/11/google-wave-vs-twitter-at-conferences/ Google Wave might well offer the best tool for conference commenting and following. It would sure beat adding a hashtag to every message. Inclusion within the conversation (once Wave is freely open) would also be potentially available to a wider audience.
          The built-in ability to poll opinion and to have waves established for each conference track will only enhance the back channel experience of conferences, and potentially if in-Wave video broadcasting becomes achievable, open the conference out to a much larger virtual audience.

          Posted by Philip Roberts | Nov 12, 2009, 11:22 am
  2. Having used it, what do you think of the claims that it’s something that’s going to replace e-mail? Is this a good system for that sort of communication, or is it better suited to other ways of communicating, like working on collaborative projects? If the enhancements you seek could be added, would you think about using it to replace e-mail in your workflow?

    Posted by David Crotty | Oct 30, 2009, 11:48 am
    • Honestly David, I don’t think so – not 100%.

      I would want my email communications available to me offline. I also want them stored somewhere other than Google. If there was an offline client I might go to 100%.

      The tricky part of your question is that there are some things I’m doing on email now that aren’t suited to email and I could see a time when they’d be better done on Wave (a lot of collaboration and communication are in long and splintered email threads and they could be much more usable, beneficial, and flexible on Wave).

      Jury’s still out for me, but I am watching with interest!

      Posted by ann michael | Oct 30, 2009, 12:01 pm
  3. Wave has a lot of good ideas–unfortunately, I think they are ideas that would be better expressed in other applications. As Philip Roberts comments above, the Google Wave API allows developers to design apps that plug into Wave. This is indeed very handy and some interesting apps have already appeared. However, I think the use-case he describes (collaborative authoring of a paper) would be better served by providing an API for Google Docs or Google Knowl (or Blogger) and incorporating some of Wave’s functionality into one or all of those applications.

    As Ann points out, Wave was designed to reinvent e-mail, not to reinvent document collaboration. At this it fails. It fails for all of the reasons Ann points out: 1. It is nearly impossible to find anyone, 2. You can’t send a Wave to people not using Wave, 3. There is no way to know anyone has sent you a Wave unless you look on your Wave dashboard (and even then it is not always obvious), 4. Wave doesn’t interoperate with clients (e.g. Outlook).

    These are issues that can be fixed in the next release, you might point out. Possibly. But they point to a larger strategic flaw with Wave and the concept of reinventing e-mail from the ground up: everyone is already using the “old” e-mail. If the “new” e-mail doesn’t interoperate with the old system it will be very difficult to get people to make the switch as the only people one can communicate with are those that are using the new system. Any people are not generally clamoring for a new system. E-mail works. There are some problems (too much of it, spam) but these are not problems that Wave will fix.

    Moreover, as Kent Anderson pointed out last week in the Scholarly Kitchen, there may be an even deeper flaw in Wave: its use of synchronous technology. One of e-mail’s best features, like the ink-on-paper letters before, is that it is asynchronous. I don’t see you typing an e-mail to me as you type it. I see it after it arrives in my inbox. That delay is not a problem to be solved but rather an inherent benefit as it allows me to manage my time. I see no benefit to a synchronous e-mail system.

    That being said, I do use instant messengers. IM systems are nice for brief chats with friends or colleagues. I could see incorporating some of Wave’s feature set into an IM system. Just as I could see incorporating some features into document and wiki and blog applications. Just as I could see incorporating some features into an e-mail system. But trying to merge all these things into one mess of the application that is supposed to do everything just doesn’t align well with the way people actually communicate. And I some of these communication metaphors “chatting” vs. “sending a letter/message” go back thousands upon thousands of years. Google is not just asking us to abandon e-mail, they are asking us to abandon metaphors (and separations between synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication) that have survived largely intact since pre-historic times. For that to happen, the advantages of switching would need to be very, very compelling. With Wave, they just aren’t.

    Posted by Michael Clarke | Oct 30, 2009, 1:11 pm
  4. I actually think that the merge of different communication functions is a great idea, since there are far too many options in play at the moment. I agree that Wave is faulty now, but, as Mike and Ann point out, the major problems can all be fixed in the next release. It won’t truly be tested until a lot more people are using it.

    Personally, I have no problem abandoning email. Most born digitals are only using email to communicate with us old folks, anyway. It’s an incredibly clunky a form of written communication that has shown almost no improvement since I started using it almost 20 years ago.

    Yes, the asynchronous element of email is useful for both time-management and minimizing error, but my guess is that Wave can find a way around that too, but allowing different write/edit modes. Wave definitely needs to be integrated not only in to other communication tools, but also social networks, annotation tools, etc, for it to be useful. It also needs to wrap itself around other applications more fluidly, so we can wave about documents, videos, projects, etc.

    Wave is a good start and there is serious potential there. It may be another version of this product or a different product altogether, but I think this kind of collaborative tool will end up replacing email and IM at some point. It seems only natural.

    Posted by Kristen Fisher Ratan | Nov 2, 2009, 6:36 pm
  5. This morning on Life Hacker there was a very useful link to “The Complete Wave Guide” (wiki book) http://completewaveguide.com/ open access resource.

    Posted by Philip Roberts | Nov 3, 2009, 8:10 am
  6. I think it’s important to distinguish between the client and the protocol when talking about Wave. Wave is built on XMPP which is an open standard – Google’s extensions to this protocol are also open. Note that XMPP powers a number of IM clients…

    So although the client that Google has built is the only game in town right now, it most certainly doesn’t have to be. Likewise the fact that hosting a wave server is just around the corner and is an explicit part of the development pathway (Anne – I think you’ll find this very useful). (http://mashable.com/2009/11/02/google-wave-federation/)

    Novell have announced Pulse which is a serious attempt to be more enterprise friendly (http://mashable.com/2009/11/04/novell-pulse/) and (http://www.novell.com/media/media.php?media=novell-pulse)

    Personally the aspects of Wave that really excite me the most are the gadgets and the robots, some of the scientific ones that are out there point to some really exciting possibilities. Possibilities that could well fundamentally rewrite the rules on what a research paper is for example.

    I think you might also find this perspective of interest as well: http://www.jasonkolb.com/ Go read his thoughts on Wave. Might change your viewpoint quite radically.

    I’m really excited about the possibilities here. I think that this is a major play by Google. It’s not even a beta yet. If they work on it for 3 years, I wonder if it will have the same impact as twitter is having on the social landscape… As for facebook – I think the ability to exert your own control over your content (via a server you host) pretty much could end facebook as a viable entity if this protocol takes off.

    Posted by David Smith | Nov 5, 2009, 11:38 am
    • “Don’t judge it based on how it looks today, try to have a little vision and see what it can (will) become.” (from the http://www.jasonkolb.com/ reference)

      Just to be clear I am VERY excited about what it can become and I do see some neat uses. All of the articles you point to underline that it’s moving in a great direction and that it might get to where it needs to be faster than many other apps have in the past.

      For me, I’ll wait a bit until the dust settles or until I have a specific use case that I know will benefit by Wave.

      That’s all!

      Posted by ann michael | Nov 5, 2009, 12:18 pm
      • I think the really important thing will be what the users decide to do with it, moreso than Google’s announced purpose. Think in terms of Twitter, which was created as a way of sending out status updates, yet is used for so many other purposes, activities created by the users, not the programmers or planners of the technology.

        Posted by David Crotty | Nov 5, 2009, 1:11 pm
      • You are so right about Twitter! That was another example where I (and many I knew) were very early users – left for a while – and then came back when there was critical mass and we found a compelling reason to participate!

        Posted by ann michael | Nov 5, 2009, 2:12 pm
  7. Google Waves goodbye to real-time collaboration tool http://bit.ly/9mhauV

    Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com/1677794/google-wave-poorly-understood-and-underused-is-officially-dead?partner=homepage_newsletter

    Ironically it was JUST starting to be manageable for me. But no one gets this kind of time to make a product relevant to an audience – not even Google!

    Posted by ann michael | Aug 5, 2010, 10:19 am

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