There is a great deal of buzz about Google Wave, now being slowly trickled out to beta users on an invitational basis. We believe that Google Wave could be a great tool for collaboration, and want to share an early review with you on our site. So we "walk the talk" Lokesh and I co-edited this blog entry using Wave.
In case you have missed the announcements, Google shares a good tutorial on their site; the video is inspiring, but runs 1 hour and 20 minutes. And for those want to learn more, Gina Trapani, of Lifehacker fame, has created an online book called The Complete Guide to Google Wave.
Many people are confused about what it is and how to describe it. Much of its eventual power will come from the plugins that people create to work with it. And as with most tools there will be continuous learning about how best to use it and new uses that people create. Our simplified definition is that Google Wave is a cross between Google Mail and a Wiki. We refer to Google Mail rather than regular email, because Google introduced the idea of conversations instead of stand-alone emails; essentially discussion threads. Google Wave extends this idea and spreads it across many parties in the conversation, while enabling interlacing of the various parts of the discussions. It also does this in real time, so people can watch the entries of others in a particular wave conversation as they make their own edits.
Users can edit each other's work, they can break off and reply to parts of the conversation, they can start new ideas within an existing Google Wave conversation, and they can drop in maps, photos, files, voting, and much much more. In fact, the range of functions is so broad that many expert reviewers are challenged by it.
We believe that Wave will become a core tool in a matter of years. It is likely we will ride the hype cycle with the "cool factor" adding to the excitement, followed by the letdown when people realize it requires real changes in how they do their work, followed by the slow and enduring popularity as people incorporate it into their lives. The particular advantages we expect people to exploit are:
- Group Conversation. This paradigm introduced with Google Mail helps overcome the limitation of email in collaborative tasks. So often many members of a team would benefit from watching or contributing to a written discussion among several members, even if it does not reach an immediate resolution. Google Wave supports this and memorializes the discussion for future reference.
- Real Time. Wave makes much more sense than email or many clunky collaboration tools for a large group to jointly decide on a meeting date, location, menus, agenda, etc. Everyone has a chance to add their constraints or preferences without all having to be in one meeting, conference call, or time zone. There are many other examples of real-time decision making that will fit with Google Wave.
- Plug ins. Because of the open APIs, we will see many specialized applications and industry vertical solutions created for Google Wave that will take advantage of this environment. Here the only limitation is our imaginations.
Despite this positive view, there are some caveats about Google Wave -- some of which may work themselves out in time and some which may be inherent:
- It is still in beta. It crashes a great deal. But that is why Google is rolling it out slowly -- to identify these issues and fix them as they go. There are upwards of 500,000 users now (mostly heavy users but also forgiving) so Google is already facing significant scaling issues.
- Most of the people you need to collaborate with do not yet have access to Wave. Everyone needs to subscribe to this tool for them to read and add messages. This will improve as Google adds more people to the invitation list. And we have yet to learn the roll-out plan -- whether it will all be hosted at Google, whether other companies might host it, or whether there will be a corporate server version.
- Some of the interface is clunky. It takes some patience to start using this tool, even for an early adopter. It took Lokesh some 3+ hours to get even the "Welcome to Google Wave" wave with its Flash plug-in on IE 8 working after signing up for the account! And I wish there was an easier way to see what other people added (edits, new discussions, etc.) since the last time I visited the Wave; there is a "playback" tool bar that is somewhat helpful, but Wave needs more. We hope that early user feedback will drive some fixes.
- People need to figure out how to use it. As with most ground-breaking tools, the Wave is not as intuitive as it becomes with some use. The "cool factor" led us to the excitement of using the wave and we found it quite valuable despite its initial challenges of learning, stability and UI. Our constant message on this site is "its the people, not just the tools". For Wave to be widely successful, it will require that people get comfortable using it. Beyond that, we need to see more people comfortable with editing other people's work, knowing how to structure a discussion with good questions, and overcoming the fear of adding written comments to a public document. This issue is still the long pole in the tent.
- People need to figure out what it is indispensable for. The Wave certainly has the cool-factor, with all the hype and excitement. We know that the payoff will not be what Google does with the Wave, it will be what users do with the Wave that will determine its success. The Wave "tricks" one into collaboration by its very nature. As the Wave accounts become more widely available and people begin to interact with their contacts, collaboration will be a direct and welcome outcome.
The bottom line is: Welcome Google Wave, the essential collaboration tool of 2011, and beyond.
Gina Trapani (author of The Complete Guide to Google Wave) has posted a blog entry on Lifehacker titled How to Manage a Group Project in Google Wave. In this posting she provides some useful tips about the best way to use Google Wave to collaborate on a project. Expect to see more articles like this as more people get experience using this new tool!
As a further follow up I would point interested readers to the article Why Google Wave Sucks, and Why You Will Use it Anyway. In this blog post Martin Sievert mentions some of the early interface and technical challenges of using Google Wave, while also noting it is in "preview" mode -- short of beta and full public release -- so deserves a little slack.
Yet he also points out that it is likely to succeed as Google works out the bugs, adjusts the user interface, and people learn how to use it well. He points out some useful tips for the users and CIOs at companies that use Wave.
I hope over time we will see a growing body of ideas about how to create the right context, user behaviour, technical platform, and collaboration processes to make the best use of this tool.
Just as people are trying to understand Google Wave and the best way to use it, and some are already denigrading it, we hear from ComputerWorld that SAP plans to introduce a Google Wave competitor called Constellation. It would be good if this were to legitimize the use of tools such as these, so long as teams invest energy in the people & process aspects. There is a risk it will increase confusion. Perhaps we will learn that the different approaches -- such as outside-in/open versus inside-out/closed -- will lead to using different tools for different types of projects. Let the collaboration wave wars begin.
Great news! Google announced yesterday they are opening Google Wave to everyone and now support Google Wave for Google Apps users. Lifehacker has a blog entry that describes this well. I have turned on Google Wave for one of my apps accounts and it works great -- although I wish Wave were one of the tabs available at the top or in the side menu or Mail (like Buzz did), instead of requiring a separate sign in.
Now, with the addition of email notifications and including everyone in Wave, Wave moves from being an interesting experiment to a tool we all can (and should) use.
I stand by my prediction that the real take-up will come in 2011, because of the normal resistance to change and the learning curve to make best use of the tool.
See Related Posts:
- Google Cancelling Google Wave
- Even the U.S. State Department Now Uses Wikis
- Organizing the UI for a Wiki - Finding the right balance
- Author! Author! Author! - Effective Collaborative Writing
- Iteration rather than Collaboration
- Effective Collaboration is Supposed to Look "Messy"!
- A Taxonomy of Collaboration Tools