I was lucky enough to get chance to join in the beta-testing of Google’s new much awaited product Google Wave. If you’ve heard about it – it’s hard to miss, the technology blogs have long anticipated it – and are wondering what all the fuss is about, read on.
What is it?
A real time communication platform; think Facebook’s live feed, but with far more bells and whistles. Google Wave can be used as a messaging system, as a collaboration tool for work projects, as a way to share and comment on photos and videos, or as a wiki with shared data being editable by anyone who wants to contribute. A range of apps and gadgets offer more options, such as: collaborative maps and a Twitter tool.
Isn’t that just the same as any other social network?
Kind of. The difference is, with Google Wave everything is done in real time – and that includes typing; as you type, your message appears for your contacts to read – so brush up your spelling. Saying that, Wave comes with a built in spell checker that auto-corrects errors. It also has an on-the-fly translation tool which makes it possible to hold a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak your language. The latter is a welcome development because so far the internet has been dominated by English.
The wiki, or collaborative, capability sets Google Wave apart from other networks and is its strongest point; whereas on Facebook only your contacts can read or contribute to a thread, and messages aren’t editable once sent, with Wave anyone can edit or contribute. However, if the information you’re posting is sensitive or personal, you do have the option of sending it privately.
Initially, I would guess the collaborative features will be used by the more tech savvy users, but I can see potential for less geeky people to utilise them too; writers collaborating on books, or students working on group projects would find the speed and ease very useful.
How do I use it?
When you first log in to your account, you’ll see a three panel layout. The left sidebar contains navigation links and a list of your contacts. The centre panel is your time line containing your waves (messages) and those sent by your friends. The panel on the right will be blank unless you click on a wave in your timeline, it will then open up on the right. The right panel can also be maximised to a full page view.
To send a wave (post a message) simply click the New Wave button at the top of the centre panel, and an input box will appear on the right. Add any contacts you want to direct the message to, type your message, and click done. As soon as you start to type, the text will appear in your timeline for your contacts to see, clicking done lets them know you’ve stopped typing and closes the input box.
Google Wave can be extended using gadgets and robots. At the time of writing, there aren’t a huge number of these, but the api is open source, so developers are free to create third party applications. You can find a gallery of available robots and extensions at Wavety. Alternatively, if you’d like to develop your own Google Wave apps, then you can find more information about that there.
I must say, initially I wasn’t impressed. The interface isn’t particularly intuitive, and although there are videos explaining how to use some features, they don’t go into enough detail. I had to spend some time trying to figure out how to use it and where to find gadgets, I’m not sure if a casual user would be willing to spend so long finding their way around. The developers really should consider creating a more detailed help section before it comes out of beta. Despite that, I do think it will be popular. Not immediately, but it does have the potential to slowly build momentum in the way Twitter did before becoming mainstream. The benefits of Twitter weren’t immediately apparent, but once people ‘got it’, they became regular users. I suspect people will adopt Google Wave in much the same manner.
Ultimately, Google Wave will add a new dimension to the way we communicate and share information and files; it will be interesting to see if or how other networks try to compete.