Google Wave: Riding the Waves of Chaos into the Future

Ever seen a Bollywood masala movie? It tries to combine all genres of popular Hindi cinema; comedy, tragedy, thrill, action, family, fantasy, romance, music etc into one single package. The result is often a movie preceded by high-hoopla and media coverage, followed by downright disappointment and barren box office registers. The recent release of the much-hyped Google “Wave” has seen a “sea” of responses and a tide of emotions analogous to a Bollywood flick. What remains to be seen is whether this one is a dud or a Blockbuster. It is about the most eagerly awaited, recently released and potentially internet-revolutionizing product developed by Google- Google Wave.
Two months ago, as Google Wave was about to be launched and Google had indicated that initially there will only be 100000 invitations. Tweets, Facebook statuses, various IM status messages etc carried ‘send me a Google wave invite’ line. Everyone wanted to try their hand at the product and it was considered to be ‘oh-so-cool’ and a ‘hip techie’ status to have one invite and to be using Google wave. The invite overnight became a much sought after thing and those who had them, were bombarded with beseeching.

Two months later, the initial hype has died down. It is easy to understand how the Google Wave runs but to maximise your experience you can see tutorials available on various sites like Tech Crunch.

As of now, I have more than 200 friends on Google Wave, but the waves are calm. Before that, as soon as someone would get an invite, their status messages will be ‘xyz has started waving’. Now, none of them know or feel the need of using it. People do not ask for invitations any more. Those who did try using it for something useful tell others not to cry for invitations or don’t tell anyone that they are using Google Wave. They do talk about a number of usability problems, but nearly all of them swear that Google Wave is the future of internet; as if they are under some spell cast by Google.

Now, going back to the movie analogy, the idea behind Google Wave was to create a platform that will bring the best from Gmail, Orkut, Google Docs, Wikipedia, IM, and Picasa and other Google applications and present it in a form that users already know how to use. The user interface is same as Gmail, with slight modifications.

A wave simply means a flow of data, where it originated and how it was changed throughout by different people with whom the wave was shared. It is intended to work as an online collaboration platform, where people can share data (doc, pictures, messages etc) with multiple users at a time and other people can add to it, in real time, and that data is updated continuously. It is like a passing a file around, to which everyone has something to add, and everyone knows who added what and when and why. There is a playback function which can be used to trace how the data was changed and updated with time. The concept is extremely simple: mix wiki style editing with features of instant messaging. Bring the power of social networking to work and collaboration. There is a real time chat option, where you can see the chat message as it is typed. You can switch to old time chat just by checking the draft option. The waves can be shared on any Google platform like BlogSpot, Orkut etc. The documents, pictures, videos, messages can be edited and carry all the features that other Google applications offer (docs, Picasa, You Tube). The options for sharing information on a wave are many and there are enough privacy options as well.

Sometimes, multiple users can edit the same document and simultaneously see the changes as the editing happens. This is awesomely cool, but can lead to confusion if there are way too many people editing things. Similarly, it allows you to add videos to conversation, maps images just by drag and drop. Lots of gadgets (other softwares which will work with GW) are expected to be build for GW by developers and the use will become more fun. Think of solving a puzzle game simultaneously with multiple people. You can watch a video, a map or a photo album, and all comments can take place like a real time chat. Waves will take away the need of refreshing a forum for any new messages as they will get automatically updated. The possibilities are immense. Google has kept the platform open source, and anybody can develop their own wave systems, and all these (at least now) will work seamlessly with each other.

But, as great Prussian strategist Moltke once said, no plan survives first contact with enemy. In GW’s case the plans did survive, but have got into multiple problems as large number of users started using it.
The first problem is SPAM and information overload. Since many people are trying to edit or share the same info, sometimes it leads to an information overload. Many times the information is repetitive or useless. Sometimes, the waves may be updated at speeds which user may not be able to handle at all. People still have to learn how to handle information flow on such a powerful tool.

Offline storage is another issue that many people fear. Since Google is going to store most of the data in its computers (all data you send over mail etc like pictures, credit card details, classified information), the prospects of its growing power over data terrifies some of them. But most of these fears, as of now, look like hyper-fears.

People also complain about having to manually reviews and edit things, limited invites mean less number of friends using and collaborating, no notifications about new waves, too long loading time, slower than the normal chat and problems in keeping certain waves restricted.

And this is where I think the analogy to a masala film should end. It has disappointed users, but all is not lost. To be fair, it is only a ‘preview’, not even a beta-release. The actual product will be unveiled in late 2010. By releasing it to large number of users now, Google has perhaps saved millions which it would have had otherwise spent testing the platform by itself.

It is primarily collaboration, not communication and sooner the people realise this, the better it is. It is more like Facebook for workplace. People will slowly start using its real time features and collaborative mechanisms effectively. They have to learn how to manage communication (or conversation) on a tool meant primarily for collaboration. Using Google Waves for things that other platforms already do well is not good choice.

Conclusion, Google Wave is a little ahead of time, and is trying to provide solution to some unforeseen problems. It is possible that we will need it in future, and since it may happen very soon, it is advisable to start using it lest you end up as dumbest among your friends or colleagues because you don’t know how to use Google Wave.

Shivraj Negi

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