Last week, Toby and I dove into the clean waters that is know as Google Wave. I say that it is the “clean” waters of Google Wave because most people I know have barely stuck a toe in – and most of them immediately pulled that toe back out.

There has been article after article of how Google Wave is going to replace email; that Wave how email would be if we could start all over again; how Wave better to communicate via Google Wave for conferences rather than Twittering about it; or, that Wave ‘Gadgets’ are going to be the iPhone ‘App Store’ of the future. From what I’ve seen so far… it is a whole lot of chatter by a bunch of dreamers, and very little actual success.

I’ve sent invites to some of my technology co-workers and friends only to be told that they simply do not have the time to mess with such a product, or have absolutely no interest in trying to learn Wave. I even tried to get some interaction going last week by creating a Wave to monitor the Journalism and New Media Ecology conference being held at Yale Law. I had two people join in, and one of them was my co-blogger, Lisa. Either people were not interested in the conference topic (which I doubt), or the struggle of understanding how to use Wave in an effective way was too much of a hurdle for most people to try to jump over.
The reason for the lack of success so far has been two-fold:
  1. Google Wave looks like it is still in Alpha testing phase, much less the Beta testing it is claiming (think Linux, pre-1999)
  2. Simply not enough people are engaging the product or each other
I’m usually a big supporter of Google, and I like a lot of what they have done over the past few years in expanding the Internet to include actual applications rather than just information retrieval. But, let’s face it, this isn’t the first time that Google has attempted to replace desktop business applications with cloud-based products (Gmail, and Google Docs) with varying degrees of success. Both of these products are “good” products, but neither have exactly caused Microsoft’s Outlook or Word to become obsolete. It seems like Google Wave might be following the same path as the Google Docs products — great personal programs, but not ready for the Enterprise Level.
Here are some of my suggestions:
  1. Open up more invitations (there are just too few people in this test… and most of them have participated very little)
  2. Stop with the 80 minute presentations on how Wave is so cool, and give me 3 minute “how-to” videos
  3. Navigating through a Wave has to be more intuitive – if you are not glued to the Wave screen, it is too hard to understand what new items have been added since you last visited the Wave
  4. Make Wave Gadgets (Apps) easier to find and use — if the Gadgets are the future of Wave, then make it easy for me to find and use them!!
  5. The “Search” portion of Wave is horrible!! For God sakes, Google… you’re a Search Engine company…. make the search portion as easy as it is on Google!!
  6. Allocate more power to the back-end of Wave — Wave is becoming slow… and getting slower. Try going through the “playback” function on a Wave that has a couple of hundred different communications in it. When I have… I find it to be extremely S L O W ! ! !
Wave is a great idea that is wrapped in a frame of confusion. Google has succeeded in the past by making products that are simple yet effective for the person using it. With Wave, so far at least, it accomplishes neither.
  • Anonymous

    I'd guess that #1 and #6 are related–the reason they aren't opening up invitations is because it would slow down an already slow system.

    It's obviously premature to sound a funeral for Wave. Until a large number of people have Wave accounts, it's impossible to say if it's effective. Wave may be better than twitter to follow a conference. But if no one has Wave and twitter is open to the entire internet, it becomes obvious how you should cover the conference.

  • I couldn't agree with you more I took one look and thought it looks good but how do I do anything?! major barrier…also I only know about 4 people on there. I'm hardly going to make waves with that many contacts!

  • Greg, sounds like you are barking up the wrong tree. Or waving on the wrong beach. You need to find people who are interested in it to engage with. We all know its beta and there are not enough users. Find someone other than the naysayers to talk to. Try me at and check out the public waves with the search " with:public " and join the conversation. It isn't a tool yet, its a toy. But it has a lot of promise that will open up as the service opens up.


    Martha (@advocatesstudio)

  • Martha… whenever I test these projects with Lisa and Toby, we're usually the weakest links in the chain. 😉

    I'll look you up and test. Toby and Lisa and I have been jumping in and testing the gadgets and bots to see what the cool bells and whistles are in Wave. It is definitely something that the more you do… the more you learn.

    For example… right now, Toby, Lisa and I are doing a conference call using the Ribbit gadget (free for a limited time.) There are a lot of things you can do… it just isn't nearly as easy as that 80 minute long video made it out.

  • No, it is definitely not easy. I agree with you – every time I use it, I figure out something new. Just another learning curve to traverse. I think it pays to get up to speed on this because I am betting at some point Google is going to move its entire messaging operation (Gmail, Chat, etc.) in this direction. And as an early user, you will be ready for that move.


  • I have not gotten the hang of it yet, I must admit. But it looks like it could be interesting – if I ever find the time to learn it better.

  • Rita,

    I think you've hit upon something that causes people to leave Wave after trying it for the first time. There is a balance in these types of online collaboration resources between "ease of use" and the "power of flexible development" of the product. Right now, I think Google Wave's fulcrum shifts the balance over to the developmental side. This is great if you're a big-time techie and are looking for ways to build resources to make Wave better. But, if you're a casual user, the "flexibility" of the Wave is overwhelming. Granted, this is still in Beta testing, so maybe as the developmental tools are created, then the fulcrum shifts more toward the middle making it a great tool for both the high-end user, as well as the casual user. I guess time will tell.