Looking at Wave

This week, Google announced something they’re calling Google Wave. What is it? I’m still trying to figure it out. I hope Google edits that 80 minute video down to something more digestible.

On the surface, it appears to be a platform that allows for real-time rich media collaboration with a Google spin. Kind of like if Ning, Google Talk, Gmail, Twitter and Facebook got smooshed together into a single open source environment. The idea is that you don’t have to go to 6 different windows to do 8 different things, you can have it all in one place, with one network per subject/focus area, and it all works together. Bloggers are focusing on it as some sort of email replacement, but I shudder to think of that happening.


It looks neat and very interesting. But the reality as I see it?

  • Early-adopter-types (you know who you are) will talk about it nonstop for a while, and then forget about it until it actually launches.
  • Said early-adopter-types will embrace it when launched, and will use it to collaborate with other early-adopter-types who blog about things early-adopter-types like to blog about and will have to be continually reminded that the rest of the world doesn’t care (see Friendfeed for what I’m talking about).
  • A few adventurous folks will try it out in their real-world communities (work, social communities, family networks, etc.). They’ll invite their friends, family and co-workers to check out the new shiny with visions of how it will change the face of communication. Those “regular” people will try it for 15 minutes, be confused and overwhelmed depending how much of the bling the early-adopter puts in (and maybe just a bit bored), and not return.
  • Pieces of the technology will work its way into mainstream tools, rather than anything like we see now in the demos really taking off on its own outside geek circles.

Google is focusing on the developer community first in this “proof of concept” project. The more gizmos and gadgets available for this thing the better, right? Somehow, I wonder if they have it backwards. When has making something slick and widget-y first ever brought mass appeal to a new concept? Is mass appeal even Google’s goal here? I think Facebook took off because by the time most “regular” people joined, the party was already rolling. They signed up and the network immediately threw 15 people at them they already knew to get them started.

Gmail focused on simplicity first (great spam filtering, super fast search, conversation grouping) and then along came Labs years later to make it all interesting and wiz-bang. As for Twitter, I think that works because what can be lower maintenance than SMS or a single simple column of short messages? Yes, it’s overload for those following hundreds or thousands of people or using TweetDeck to track 15 different search terms, but the majority of regular folks I come across are following less than 100 people. I always laugh when the early-adopter-types follow 1500 people, turn on every bell & whistle, and then complain about how cluttered or overloaded something is.

Facebook went real time and the experience suffered. We’re sticking with it because our connections are already there, so we slog through all the quizzes, kisses and other clutter. It seems people think they want real time updates, but what they really want is intelligent real time updates. Only tell me what I want to know when I want to know it. I may be bored one evening and care that my friend is most like Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. Other times, I only want to see status updates or comments around a particular subject. I don’t want the Internet to just throw data at me.

Maybe I’m cynical because I’m finding it a bit annoying that Google is hyping Wave to coordinate communication between contacts across different spaces, and the built-in Contact management in Gmail still sucks the way it does. If I used Mail.app or Outlook, I’d have a unified address book which can easily be shared/accessed across multiple email accounts. Is that too much to ask, Google?