For some weeks now, I’ve been testing Google Wave. I was lucky enough to get a very early beta invite, and I have been playing with it (with varying levels of success) ever since. I thought that it was now time to give some first impressions, and to maybe try to answer the question that everyone keeps asking me – what exactly is Google Wave, anyway?

So, first and foremost, if you have the time and the inclination, I recommend you watch Google’s video, which explains all of the features they hope to implement, as well as some example uses of the technology. It’s a long video (1hr and 20 mins) but I found it interesting enough to want to apply for a beta invite. You can view the video and read some intro material on the Google Wave site.

With the marketing spin out of the way, I can get into my own experience with Google Wave. The technology itself is in very early beta. Many of the bots that were developed in the initial sandbox phase (and that you’ll see in the video above) didn’t work when I initially started testing wave. Truth be told, when I started using Wave, the first thing I realised was that I couldn’t really test it properly, because almost no one I knew was also part of the beta phase! As the days and weeks have gone on, new bots have been brought on stream, and Google are implementing more of the features demonstrated in the video. Also, they’ve provided invite nominations to users, meaning that you can bring your circle of friends into Wave too. This has solved a lot of the initial problems (i.e. being in a Wave all by yourself, without even bots to play with!).

I know that many people don’t see what all of the fuss is about, or how the tool is an improvement on email, but I can see massive potential. I’m involved in several groups (training, gaming, etc.) and this usually means that I’m involved in the event organisation to a certain degree. For organising club and group events, I think that Wave offers several advantages over email, and I’ll try to explain below.

  • Default “Reply All” – A common problem when sending out a group email to my committee members is the “bittiness” of the responses that you get back. Some people remember to reply all, and some don’t. What that means is that information gets lost, and then doesn’t make sense when it arrives, out of context, because someone else has “replied all” to an email that contained some non-reply all content. All in all, it’s a bit messy.
  • Like grouped with like – Occasionally, you don’t want to reply all in a mail, because you really do just want this one person to know what you have to say. With email, once you break off into a personal conversation, there’s no guarantee that that email will be grouped with the others, or grouped coherently into the time line. It’s likely that you’ll end up with another conversation grouping, or that your individual conversation will be broken up by group emails. With Wave, I can break off and make my individual comments within the context of the wave. The comments are stored in the same grouping, and kept in context with everything else.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition – As a function of the reply and reply all options in email, you end up with a lot of messy, duplicated data. Scrolling down through an email conversation with a group of people can be pretty tiresome, as in between each relevant bit of new information, there is the inevitable glut of previously emailed info, signatures, auto-inserted legal disclaimers, etc. In Wave, you reply, and your reply is there, without having everything else tagging along.
  • Consistency is king – While it would be nice if all of my group members used gmail, I’m sorry to say that they don’t. This means that, while I have all of the group mails (mostly) bunched together in my inbox in an expandable conversation, they don’t. And as a result, emails get missed, get lost, get ignored, etc. Using Wave for the group interaction brings a consistency to it. Everyone will see each blip in the wave the same way, and everyone will have all the information grouped together in context. No more lost emails, missing info, etc.
  • There’s a plugin for that! – Organising group events can be tricky, and there are usually a few hurdles that you’ll have to clear regardless of the event type. The main issues are usually 1) getting the information out to people consistently, 2) getting and managing rsvp information, and 3) giving directions. Thankfully, Wave addresses the above. There’s a simple Yes, No, Maybe plugin that will allow people to click on a button to rsvp. You can embed google maps with location information so no one gets lost, and as already addressed above, you know that everyone will receive the information consistently.
  • Early bird gets the worm – But luckily, in Wave, the late bird can catch up. Rather than needing a separate email chain to catch a latecomer up, or having to forward several email conversations, you just add them to the Wave. All the information is there, in context, and complete. If they want a more comprehensive run through, they can use the playback feature, which gives them a blip-by-blip playback of the wave from the first message.
  • Too many cooks – getting feedback on event information is hard enough – getting feedback on event paraphernalia is almost impossible. Rather than emailing an attachment (a poster in a Word document, for example) I can add it to the wave. From there people can view it, and make changes as necessary. The group is more involved in the creation process, and the work can be shared more evenly among the group.

I have only been using Wave a short time, and I can already see huge potential for organising various club and group events, sharing plans and documents, and generally helping things to run smoothly. I’m glad to be part of the beta, and I can’t wait until it’s ready to roll out fully.

I think the reason I’m so excited is because I’ve realised what it’s about. If you’re just going to use it to chat to a friend, then you’re right. It’s not much different than using email or chat, and you could be forgiven for thinking that all the fuss is about nothing. If you look at the larger scope, and see it as a project collaboration tool, I think it’ll make you smile.

So there you have it, my first impressions of Google Wave. Feel free to add your own (or dispute mine!) below.