Google Wave – the future of communications, or just another social media tool?

Google_Wave_logoYou’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter – next up is Google Wave. I recently received an invite to join Google Wave, Google’s new social media/collaboration tool.  Since it is still in a limited preview phase, the only way to join Google Wave is via such invites (read on if you are interested in getting an invite – I have three to give away). I’ve now had some time to play with it, and thought I’d add my thoughts to the growing number of reviewers and critics.

According to the Google Wave ‘About’ page:

Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Many believe that Google Wave has the power to ‘replace’ e-mail.  It also seems to be Google’s contribution to the recent boom in social media tools (twitter, Facebook, mySpace, etc.), to allow ‘friends’, colleagues, etc. to share updates, information, photos, etc. and interact with each other (eg, games, surveys, etc.). Google’s entry into this space is quite late, with twitter, Facebook, and mySpace each having hundreds of millions of users already – that said, we are talking about Google here, and with it’s brand popularity, massive user base, and financial fire-power, it can’t be discounted.

Google Wave is ‘web based’ (ie, to be opened in a browser like Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.). Various developers, such as Waveboard, my preferred choice, or Fluid, have created ‘site specific browsers’ which allow Wave (or, in the case of Fluid, any other web page) to be run as if it were a separate application (meaning that it can sit in a toolbar, with indicators to announce new ‘messages’, etc.).


Google Wave is incredibly powerful, perhaps too powerful, resulting in a greater degree of complexity than email and the other social media tools that I’ve mentioned so far.

Compared to the others, it is probably most like Facebook’s use of the ‘wall’, where threaded messages can be posted, including photos, links, surveys, etc. Wave seems however to target business use, as well as the more general public/consumer use that Facebook seems to target – this is largely driven by Wave’s use of ‘extensions‘ to tailor Wave’s collaborative approach to specific situations.

My favourite ‘demo’ of Wave is shown in this video (warning, contains bad language):

My principle problems so far with Wave are:

  1. like other social media tools it is only as good as the number of contacts that you are connected to – if your friends/colleagues don’t use it (eg, if they are not internet savvy, or if they prefer Facebook, or your IT administrator will not provide access) then its benefit is highly limited (on a short-term basis, I currently experience this because very few of the people that I know have so far received invites from Google)
  2. its high degree of flexibility and extendability mean that can become complicated – internet savvy people (geeks?!) might persevere to learn the different tools, but will the majority? Email is very simple, and many might prefer to stick to it (in some cases, having only just got themselves comfortable with it!)
  3. it can appear cluttered – multiple messages in a wave, and multiple waves can fill the screen and make it difficult to keep up with all of the developments – on this basis, it might be advisable to steer away from ‘public waves’ (accessible by anyone), which can quickly have thousands of different contributors (albeit this might be the only way that new joiners can participate in wave’s until more of their own contacts can join)
  4. perhaps most amazingly, Wave’s search function is not trivial (who would expect that Google’s entry to social media would struggle to make the search function straightforward – that said, Google has only recently added a search function to Google Reader …)

As Google continues to develop and test Wave (it is in a ‘limited preview’ phase), it is itself restricting Wave’s usage to a small number of people and therefore causing the problem #1 above, and while Google may not be ready for mass launch yet, it runs the risk of negative image developing and others taking an unassailable lead in the collaborative social media space (in the internet world, innovative leadership doesn’t last for long).

Until Google Wave is opened up completely, to whoever wants to join, it is too early to say whether Google Wave will hold a key role in the future of communication.

I personally look forward to trying out Google Wave with more of my own contacts, when I suspect I will start to truly understand its power.

Finally, Google recently gave me eight invites to give away to whoever I chose:

Invite others to Google Wave

Google Wave is more fun when you have others to wave with, so please nominate people you would like to add.  Keep in mind that this is a preview so it could be a bit rocky at times.

Invitations will not be sent immediately. We have a lot of stamps to lick.

Happy waving!

Five of these I will give to friends and colleagues, and thereby begin to increase my contacts on Google Wave.

As a little experiment for my blog, I will give away the other three invites to anyone reading this (first come, first serve) – simply contact me (either via the comments below, or via twitter). While one might wonder why I don’t expand my own contacts as much as possible, I think it might be interesting to use this as a chance to introduce others who are reading my blog, and who are keen to try out Google Wave.

As Google says, ‘Happy waving!

6 Responses

  1. I’m waiting to use that wave.. Any news of Google Wave I will put here

  2. I’m writing a book on “Democratizing Data,” and access 2 Google Wave would really help, if you still have an invitations left!

  3. Thanks for the in-depth review Matt, especially the screenshots! I’ve been hearing everyone talking about Google Wave, but I didn’t know exactly what it was supposed to accomplish.

    Your point #2 about being complicated is what sticks out to me…Google Wave is the answer to the question no one was asking! While it may seem disjoint having a separate Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Flickr, and any other account, to me having different accounts keeps it organized. Once you can do everything in one place, you start confusing the task at hand. You get too many choices for communication, and the message gets lost.

    • Think I’d agree, (at this point! — subject 2 change @ any time!!!) Twitter’s my lifeblood (hence decline & fall of my blog, to which I used to make 3-4 serious, long posts daily pre-Twitter), and Facebook something that I check less frequently & more socially. It’s gonna take a while 2 really sort out what’s best modality 4 what stuff. BUT, great 2 have all the options!

    • Personally, I find Tweetdeck the thing I use the most at the moment – it collects all my Facebook updates and Twitter updates in one location, as well as a couple of Twitter searches that I keep an eye on (eg, activity relating to the firm that I work for), and allows me to organise the Twitter updates into separate columns depending on how I choose to group the people that I follow.

      I would like Tweetdeck to also pull together my LinkedIn updates also, but the guys at Tweetdeck know that already – they have a pretty good forum, to track what users want, here:

  4. By the way, once you have your Google Wave invite, three (maybe) useful bits of info to get you started:

    1) to see public waves, type “with:public” (without the quotation marks) in the ‘New wave’ box

    2) To make your wave public, add to your wave, just as you would for anyone else that you would want to have in your wave

    3) To tweet from Google Wave, add to a new wave

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