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Lots of talk about Google Wave last week, but after reading five articles that all described it in a similar fashion, I still didn't quite get what all the fuss was about. Finally, at the behest of one of my online friends I looked at the first 40 minutes of the 1 hour and 20 minute presentation from last week's Google I/O conference, and I finally had an inkling of the potential.

I still didn't quite share the enthusiasm at first glance of Tim O'Reilly or Mashable's Ben Parr, both of whom saw the whole presentation, and believe that this could be game changing software. Although I certainly can see its potential, I can also see some potential problems that I think we should discuss before pronouncing this a crowning achievement.

What It Is In a Nut Shell

What this software does is provide a unified communication interface, and believe me, I'm not dismissing that lightly. Think of it at its most basic level as a way to view IM and email in a unified interface in real time, right down to seeing individual keystrokes as you type if you wish. What's more, you can also share and collaborate from the same interface, so think of having Google Docs built in to the same interface, with real-time collaboration and editing capabilities including the ability to add items like photos and even enabling your colleague to fix your typos for you.

Waves are not confined to the Wave interface, however. You can programmatically link a wave to web site or blog, so that you embed the Wave directly into an entirely different venue much like Google Maps (which is no coincidence, since this is the same team that brought you Google Maps).

This ability to communicate, collaborate and share across different venues from a single tool is what makes it so powerful. So you could have a live conversation in your blog's comment section by embedding Wave functionality into your blog. The conversation appears in your blog and in your Wave interface, so you can access it from both places, or you never have to open Wave to see it. The software is not confined to its container.

What I'm Worried About

For all the potential I see here, and there is a tremendous amount, there are a number of issues I could see:

* What happens when you have conversation with more than say five people.

Conversations are known as Waves, but the demo included just three people. What happens when you are on team with 15 or 20 people or on a mailing list with 200 people? Won't it get crowded and out of control fairly quickly? Won't the interface itself overwhelm those of us who have trouble processing too much information in a single view. It will surely please some people, but I can see it getting overcrowded and noisy in a hurry. It will definitely need well designed filtering controls to avoid this problem.

* Key Stroke by Key Stroke View Could Be Annoying

The programmers maintained that the stroke by stroke view keeps the conversation alive, rather than waiting for the next sentence or two to appear. I can see how that could be useful, but I could also see it getting annoying, especially when multiple people were typing at the same time. What's more, very often I formulate a thought in IM , then change my mind and reword it or dismiss my thought altogether. If the person saw my thought process as it happens, I've lost that ability to check myself. Yes you can shut it off, but the very people who should probably won't.

* Editing Ability Could Get Out of Control

Everyone can edit everyone's messages to give you a live document kind of functionality, but it's not just a document interface, it's an email/IM interface, so it allows the person to edit anything and everything. Yes, there is an audit trail, and the author is informed of changes, but if you come into a conversation in the middle, you won't see the change history (as you can in a Wiki) unless you "play back" the entire conversation. Of course, most of us aren't going to do that, so the truth will be whatever we see in front of us and that could be a big problem.

* Too Complicated for the Masses

After watching the presentation, I wondered about the complexity of the interface and the number of adjustments you could make, and if this could have an impact on mass adoption (say on the scale of Gmail). Twitter is about as simple as you can get, 140 character limit and click Send and some people still have trouble understanding the nuances. Wave is a magnitude more complex and I wonder if this will hold back adoption beyond the technical elite.

These may not prove to be insurmountable obstacles, but as Seth Godin pointed out this week, the trouble with Microsoft's Bing ad campaign is that it suggests people are looking for a reason to move from Google Search when they're not. Neither do I think are they looking for an alternative to email and instant messaging. It works just fine for most people now. If people were to move to a new email/IM interface, it would have to be so compelling that they are willing to switch, and in my view, it would also need to be simple to use.

Wave is certainly compelling, but in its current form, as presented, it's not simple yet. As interesting as Wave may sound to the usual group of early adopters (like me), Google might have a tough time convincing the masses that this is a worthwhile switch and that is going to be a tougher sell for Google to make.

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Last Post by ColdDimSum
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Ron - I totally agree on all points, specifically the fact that I love email and IM as they are. And I know so many people that are still just trying to figure them out! (albeit from mid-40's on...). And the live keystrokes!
I can see the blog posts now: '10 ways to make sure you don't look unprofessional when you're using Google Wave' and 'Getting ready to talk to a new client using Google Wave? Here's how to avoid those insidious typos...'
Oy.

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Hi Julie:
Great point. People will need to be taught how to use this tool effectively, wisely and well. Lots of potential, but like any tool, in the wrongs hands it could be dangerous. :-)

Ron

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FYI I watched the first 40 minutes because it provided a demonstration of the end user functionality, which was what interested me for the purposes of this post. The rest of the video was on web development tools and ways to build the programmatic links. I will watch those sections and write about that part of the functionality in another post.

Ron

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"Twitter is about as simple as you can get, 140 character limit and click Send and some people still have trouble understanding the nuances. "

I don't think 'as simple as you get' really covers twitter. Not everyone is ideally positioned to think in terms of '140 character twits', there's actually a LOT of nuance involved in being limited in how to express yourself.

I agree, Wave may or may not see wide adoption, but as an idea, it seems worthwhile. The 'overwhelming' nature of a Wave with a lot of people will likely not be any more overwhelming than a popular IRC channel, or some of these streaming video websites where they keep up a constant live chat stream. People who are used to technologies like that will probably have no issue adopting.

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I think you guys are forgetting that this is a developers snapshot and that it is open source. People are going to change this many iterations over before it's released. Also, a majority of people out there don't IM at all...they just use email..which negates the need for extra training.

Plus, consider the setup of the demo...it was a development team. This is going to be pushed toward collaborative teams before it's pushed out to the masses...I think you missed the group wave is targeting.

in other words, your concerns are premature and definitely aren't shared by me...

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I too like the idea of withholding participation in the, er, wave of hype (pun intented).

There is a sweet spot of practical usage, but it seems we swing these ways anyway with many "new" technologies these days (and perhaps before). Hype...then sober reality...then disappointment...onto new Hype.

What I didn't buy from anyone is the notion of something *replacing* email or messaging services. It is an overambitious idea to throw in - pick a mountain and brag about climbing it. I suppose it's always been about augmenting or adding onto these technologies.

But Hans has a great point in the demo when he addresses the *federated* nature of their proposed technology. Right now, email systems are facing a constant and growing onslaught from untrusted sources who can inject messages into the system anywhere at any time. If Email alone doesn't need replacing, then how exactly is it going to survive without a much needed overhaul? Would implementing a system like Google's "Wave" protocol not address some of the emerging issue, and provide a messaging platform that an scale to manage many different inputs while leveraging all possible outputs (web, SMS, video, voice, etc?). I use numerous online communities and messaging technologies. I would prefer to aggregate them into one place as I've already done with my IM by using Adium to send and receive IMs from all protocols and sites I subscribe to (MSN, Yahoo, Google, ICQ, iChat, FB, etc...). Does the concept not logically extend to all messaging options and then again extend to methods of interacting with the web?

Given the *possibilities* isn't the proposed technology a decent launching pad?

What I'd like to know is - is it better than what's out there and emerging? How does it compare if it's impractical.

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Jason,
You make excellent points. The idea of a communications system minus the spam is a compelling one, on that point alone, and this is so much more than that. I'm not denying it's amazing technology. I've made that point throughout. I'm just pushing back at the preliminary gushing and hype and trying to find the areas of weakness. I haven't used this software. I've only seen the demo of the end user portion of it. I agree it has tremendous potential and I'm certainly not suggesting that they don't try. I think the fact they've been able to get this far with it is very impressive, but it doesn't mean there aren't questions we shouldn't be asking throughout the process to help improve it and help the developers fill in possible holes that could develop. Thanks for the great comment.

Ron

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Hi Synrath:
I'm not forgetting your point at all. i realize it's a very preliminary snap shot, you're right that the idea is more than worthwhile, but I do think Google gets into these things for a reason, and it's not for a few geeks to enjoy the technology. It's because they see if it scales and grows, they can make more ad money. So if it's not accessible, and it's nothing more than a cool programming experiment, I don't think they will have achieved their goal, but I think in the end it will indeed be much more than that.

Thanks for commenting.

Ron

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Forgive me, but I am old and cranky and under the impression that I have seen many "new" things at least once and frequently twice before. They may now be in colour, be mouse operated and have pictures but - none the less - they have been seen before.

In what way is Google Wave - in principle - any different from MSN? Indeed from IRC?

It is based on XMPP (in other words: Jabber). I see it does nothing in particular about the scaling issues in the protocol (ie it's just a new class of XMPP messages).

It all looks very shiny (and there's nothing wrong with that), there may be some funky (and useful) features but what, fundamentally, is new? How is it going to solve the problems both in efficient distribution of content and also presentation of that content to users?

Sorry, I just don't see it.

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We are very excited about the possibilities presented with Google Wave. ...especially with its FOSS aspects.

We've created a new discussion forum to discuss all things Wave...

Check it out at http://DiscussWave.com

Cheers,

Bruce Wagner

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Koopman,
Thanks for the comment. It may look similar to you and clearly takes from several different models, but I think if you look closely that the way they are implementing Wave is new and different from anything that came before it. It encompasses parts of IRC, but it's much more than that and what's different is the ability to collaborate in real time that it brings. Whether it can overcome the potential noise and become useful to many remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that it's interesting and the fact it's open source leaves open lots of possiblities.

In spite of my reservations, I still can't wait to see it in action.

Ron

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An attempt to explain why I think these are not issues (or rather not just with this platform)

> What happens when you have conversation with more than say five people.
Same thing as with a normal conversation ;-) most people have to stop talking & listen
Have you tried 5-way email communication? :-P

> Key Stroke by Key Stroke View Could Be Annoying
Similar to above - interupting can be rude or appropriate depending on how & when it's done, basically it will cause the same problem as several people talking at once in a conversation does & the sections will (naturally, i hope) split off into seperate branches

> Too Complicated for the Masses
Complicated to use all the features of, but you could just stick to IM+Email style of use until you're comfortable

They are a good list of general communication problems, i just don't think they apply more in this case than elsewhere

Thanks :-)
- imma

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Hi Imma:
Thanks for taking the time to comment and give me your thoughts. I think it's a little different than most real life communication. It has the potential to be more like the commodity's exchange with people all talking at once than it does a polite classroom where everyone waits their turn, or at least that's the danger. It will likely be a combination of both.

Perhaps you're right and the masses will cling to the Email/IM features and business will latch onto the collaboration parts. Regardless, I can't wait to see how it works and what parts people will use. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the months ahead.

Thanks again for your comment.

Ron

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Thinking of Wave in terms of "replacing" such as GMAIL (or even email, itself) is just silly. Not every Internet communication needs to be (or even should be) as would be in Wave. Traditional email, at the very least, should (and likely will) never go away. Of this, I think there should be little fear or doubt.

Now, that doesn't mean there won't be a place -- and a potent one, indeed -- in our lives for such as Wave and its ineluctable variants. It, too, will be useful, under the right circumstances. In fact, from my admittedly only-cursory analysis of it to date, I'm thinking that what actually MAY be "replaced" by Wave, as a practical matter, is traditional "chat," as we now know it (though traditional chat, mark my words, will continue to be around for years and years, too, no matter how good Wave ultimately gets).

Regardless, one thing about which we should all be clear in our minds is that we're not talking about the mere replacing of anything, here. Wave, for better or worse, seems very nearly of the nature of paradigm shift... and far be it from me to suggest that that's, necessarily, a bad thing, here.

It does, however, come with pitfalls about which we should all be watchful, if not actually downright concerned. For example, though it's now coming out in articles (and/or rebuttals to such as I am posting here) that it's likely to be user-configurable, initial writings about Wave touted the ability (and represented it as essential to Wave's very way of operating) of all persons in a "wave" (or a thread) to be able to see, in real time, all others' keystrokes, as they type.

Let me repeat the salient words of that, here: AS. THEY. TYPE.

Think about that, please, for just a moment. It's a far larger problem than, perhaps, it initially seems. Like how sausage is made (or, as some joke, like how laws are passed), some things in life may better be left something of a mystery to those who ultimately consume (or are regulated by) them; and, most importantly, solely at the creator's option.

The ultimate impact and meaning to the reader of anything written would be inordinately influenced by said reader's having been a witness to its creation. If one is a thoughtful writer who doesn't just blurt out every wayward thing which flits through one's brain, then one is going to pause to think while one types, and back-up and delete and re-type, and whatever else behind-the-scenes activity goes into what ends-up being the finished written product. If the reader were able to witness what the writer merely paused before writing; or actually did write, but then thought better of and either removed or changed to something else, then the bell of what the reader saw along the way cannot be un-rung; and the reader's ultimate interpretation and understanding of the final written result will be indelibly affected in ways (even if not immediately obvious) more likely than not to be inherently bad for all concerned.

Now, if it's true, as some who challenge such as my assertions, here, are now saying, that the ability of others to view one's keystrokes as one makes them is (or at least will be) user-configurable in the version of Wave which is finally released to the end-user wild, then my concern, at least on this particular privacy-related point, is happily ameliorated.

However, of larger philosophical concern to me is that the creators of Wave apparently believed, even if only briefly, that something as basic as this issue would not be important. What, then (if anything), does that mean we should also be wary of in the realm of personal privacy protections, just generally, for users of this new and groundbreaking product? For what else should we be watching which may, ultimately, negatively impact us because of fundamental, and at least initially seemingly harmless, privacy encroachments...

...encroachments which may not even be recognizable as encroachments to Wave's creators because, perhaps, of their nationality and upbringing (nothing negative, mind you, intended by that wording, I assure).

One potentially troubling impact (at least from the standpoint of Americans, in my opinion) of globalization (which, incidentaly, I'm not fundamentally against, despite how what I'm about to write may make it seem) is how the sensibilities of those non-Americans who create things which all others on the planet end-up using can unintentionally contravene that which Americans hold perhaps nearer and dearer to their hearts than do non-American others. Those who grew up and still live in countries where such things as privacy and freedom of speech are not as absolute and paramount as in the US may or may not necessarily value such rights to the same degree as do Americans; and it sometimes shows in their work.

It has not escaped my notice that the two brothers -- brilliant though they are -- who created and continue to develop Wave were neither born and raised in, nor now live in, the US... and so I fear (and I may be completely wrong about this, I realize... but absent, at this point, any reason not to, I am nevertheless fearing that they) may not place as much of a premium on the notion of absolute privacy (if desired by the end-user of Wave) as do Americans.

Or, who knows, maybe they do. I don't know them, and it's unfair of me to presume, I suppose (or even to suppose, I presume). One way or the other, though, it should be at least a concern to all that the default behavior of Wave seems so inherently and joltingly privacy-denuding.

So, then, again, begged is the question: Of what else (if anything), in Wave, should we who hold inviolate our privacy be wary?

To appeal to (at least thinking) Americans, the makers of Wave need to take steps to ensure that if the end-user wants to protect his/her absolute privacy while using this admittedly exciting and paradigm-shifting new product, it can, via easy configuration settings, be satisfactorily and incontrovertibly achieved at all possible levels, and in all possible ways. Moreover, as it is developed, the makers of Wave might need to realize that they may, because of their nationality and upbringing, not necessarily even recognize what all of those levels and ways might be; and the Americans (or even the non-Americans who at least fully grasp the American viewpoint regarding all this) who work on the development of Wave should ensure that no privacy holes such as I'm discussing here remain anywhere in it when it's finally and fully released into the end-user wild.

Or so it is my opinion... my two cents worth, as it were...

...which my ex-wife, for example, among others, has been known to quickly attest tends to be about all it's usually worth.


__________________________
Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California
gregg[at]greggdeselms.com

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Thanks for your extremely thoughtful analysis, Greg. I'm sure it's worth far more than 2 cents.

I appreciate you taking the time to leave such a lengthy and thoughtful comment.

Ron

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They see you as you type it feature can be toggled on and off. Nuff said.

You can add robots, like Bloggy, to waves and they can copy all the content - text, pics, etc. - to the blog immediately. Very Cool!

It translates into 40 different languages using the WHOLE internet as the language model. Can you say powerful (in 40+ languages)?

-Tom

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Tbeek:
Nobody is denying its potential to be a very powerful app, but there are still open questions beyond seeing every keystroke and it it's worth having a discussion about the pros and cons of this approach.

Thanks for the comment.

Ron

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I don't really understand why everyone is freaked out by as-you-type messaging, doesn't anyone remember good old 'talk'? Furthermore, they clearly stated that this would be something you could turn off so it seems like a non-issue to me, people who can't deal will just disable it.

And I do think in terms of waves completely replacing email and im clients *eventually*, first by integration (embed a wave in an email and collaborate through it, and possibly by gateway integration tools), and slowly by completely getting rid of the email part. Gmail is already a nice integration of im and email so this is the next logic step to me.

If the ultimate communication tool isn't Wave (and I'm under no illusion that it is), at least Wave is leaps and bounds closer to some ideal than the aging email and im systems we have today. And I think that it's going to be magic for collaborative teams and software development groups and the ability to start pooling different information resource silos (the bug tracking integration was a good example of that). That is where I'm most excited.

At the very least the next few years should be very interesting.

I know this is the first tool to attempt something like this but to me it feels like the right tool to me at this time.

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