First Thoughts on Google Wave
Yesterday I was given my Developer Preview account by the Google Wave team. To say I have been eager to try Wave out since watching the original video is something of an understatement! I felt a bit like Charlie unwrapping his chocolate bar and finding a golden ticket. OK well maybe not that excited, but you know, a brand new messaging medium in a world where I receive coming on to a thousand emails, IMs, tweets and SMS messages of day is something to get excited about.
Then I started thinking; is this thing going to add to the information overload, or actually help me make sense of it all?
Yes, it's a Paradigm Shift
Is it an IM app? Does it replace email? What the hell is it? Trying to describe it to my wife last night I came out with "It's a cross between Messenger, Email and Facebook". I still think that's accurate, but it didn't really help her! Once you start actually using it things slowly fall into place in your mind, but until you do so, it's pretty hard to explain or understand.
I think it's more accurate to say that it's a bunch of shared IM conversations that are organised like email messages and stored on the server for time immemorial. The upshot of all this is that you can use it in a variety of different ways depending on what you want to achieve. It serves as an IM, IRC and Email server, but you can also do things that you might not necessarily first think of, such as using it as a simple Wiki with shared editing and history.
Another analogy - it's like real time email. On crack.
Once you include the gadgets and robots, things start getting a bit out of control! Gadgets let you drop in pretty much anything into a conversation; chess boards, maps, videos and anything else that people develop. Robots will in all likelihood act as a way of interfacing with third party services. Got a continuous integration server that could do with a messaging system that is more dynamic than email? Write a robot. Funnily enough the robots seem to be driving a lot of the developers on the preview server nuts; most irritating is the swedish chef that hijacks waves and spouts rubbish. Bork Bork!
The developer preview has every developer running within the same wave server (as far as I can tell). As a result it's somewhat anarchic at the moment. I think the fact that the messages are relayed in real time (keystroke by keystroke) people tend to post shorter messages, in the same way that IM conversations are so much shorter than email messages. People are condensing what they want to say into the shortest, most efficient form of English, a la Twitter or an SMS. Personally I think that's a good thing as I hate long rambling emails that could be re-written in 3 sentences, but it's an interesting point.
It's pretty slick. The UI follows a fairly similar Outlook metaphor with (loosely) folders and contacts on the left, message list in the middle pane and the selected message on the right. One thing I felt straight off was that this was a very un-Googley interface. Both the creative design and the actual interaction with the application itself is far from the stripped down, "if it's not 100% necessary it goes" philosophy of other Google Web Apps like Gmail or Reader.
Drag and Drop for files and images worked perfectly, first time in Safari 4. It's *very* cool. I have Gears installed which I guess manages the mojo. Don't underestimate how helpful this is.
I'm not sure if there are API interfaces into the application but, ironically, it's crying out for a proper desktop client.
The browser is the OS
Reloading the browser for some reason took me back to using a ZX Spectrum and having to pull the power plug out when it crashed. Sort of "there's a simple solution to this bug - just restart everything". Coincidentally it takes around the same amount of time to get back to where you were as it did on a Spectrum - 3 or 4 seconds.
This is probably the most advanced 'application in a browser' that I've seen. It really does feel like a little operating system living in your browser tab. Using it suddenly makes Chrome and Chrome OS make a whole lot of sense. If you listen carefully you can hear Ballmer's chairs flying around in the background.
The more you use the application the more it rubs against normal convention. Maybe it will be the Fosbury Flop of online communication; in 5 years time no-one will know how the world spun without it. In a way it is so open ended to be a detriment. I think Wave's success depends on a number of things:
- How it is presented to people. Google need to come up with a coherent, one sentence answer to "What is it?" that people like my Dad (who call's his web browser "the Google") can comprehend
- How well it integrates with existing protocols like Email and IM
- How third party developers leverage the platform in crazy and ingenious ways
For me, if it kills the bastard child that is SMTP I'd be more than happy, but as it is I can see it replacing more protocols here at Solid State than it introduces, and for me that is a great step forward.