A few weeks ago I received a Google Wave invitation from my friend David Knopf (after publicly begging for one in my post Hoping to Surf the Google Wave). Since then, I've had a chance to use it and I've seen the good, the bad and the ever-present potential of the tool. While it does have tremendous potential, I think some of my initial concerns as outlined in my post A Curmudgeonly Look at Google Wave, have proven true.
Just the other day, I was invited to be on a panel to discuss Google Wave at the Gilbane Conference in Boston on December 3rd. Larry Hawes, the Gilbane consultant organizing the panel, invited me to participate on Twitter and moved the conversation to a Wave. There, the participants were able to get an idea of the scope of the panel discussion, the logistics and organization of the panel and we were able to exchange bios and pictures for the conference program. We did this quickly and efficiently all inside a Wave.
As John Blossom, a panel participant who is president of Shore Communications, Inc and author of the book Content Nation, pointed out, we were able to use Wave to do in a few minutes, what would have taken hours and many emails back and forth to achieve with traditional email. It certainly proved the power of Google Wave, but at the same time, it also proved its weaknesses.
As you exchange information back and forth, people reply to blips in the Wave. (Blips are like individual emails or responses). All of the blips are active within a Wave at any given time. The problem is that each blip is its own separate "conversation" and while I might be responding to Blip 1, another respondent might be replying to Blip 2 and a third starting an entirely new blip.
As you can imagine, it can get confusing trying to keep up with this kind of flow, especially when it happens in real time. As I worried in my Curmudgeonly post, as you get more participants, it makes it all that much more difficult to keep up with the flow of the conversation.
And the live typing where you can watch as each participant types his/her response in real time only adds to the confusion. I would hope that Google would eventually enable users to turn this off. As I suspected, it can get really annoying and I don't really see much purpose to this feature.
While the technical folks have taken to this tool as the early "wave" of adopters, I still worry that it's far too complicated for the masses and that people will quickly become confused. While I agree that traditional email is clearly broken, it's not clear that Google Wave in its current state is an adequate replacement for the average user out there.
I still believe the potential is so great, and its greatest strength could lie in its API and the third party developers who building gadgets and plug-ins for Google Wave. I also think that that the idea that you can use Wave in web sites and blogs independent of the client itself has tremendous potential. Google Wave provides a two-way communications platform, the likes of which we haven't seen to this point.
But for now, Google Wave is clearly a work in progress. Some people like John Blossom have done some very creative things with Wave, using it as a living, breathing publication with an on-going live discussions with his readers. But it's clear that people are still trying to define what it is and what it's best suited to do, and it's still very early, too early to making any definitive judgments about it.