Google Wave: First Impressions

Wave's potential as open source collaborative plumbing for the Internet could help expand it beyond a simple product and application structure.
Though hardly an insurmountable technical challenge, subtle choices like this will have a major impact on how users feel about using Wave. Part of the goal in the Wave testing process is to figure out the interface and design issues so the learning curve is minimized.

Much of Wave's potential, however, rests in the hands of developers. And Rasmussen is fine with that. He points to the innovative uses of Google Maps as something Google never could have accomplished on its own.

"We're banking on developers taking this to a whole different level than we could ever take this to ourselves," he said.

Wave won't be replacing e-mail anytime soon, not only because any technology that has lasted since the 1960s is bound to linger for decades even if it does fall out of favor, but also because Wave, like many other online services, currently depends on e-mail addresses for user identification. Everyone using Wave currently has a [email protected] e-mail address. A Google official explained, "Identity in Wave is another one of the things that the team is still working through."

But when enough people start using it, I'll be happy to communicate with them in Wave because the experience is so much richer and more manageable than it is in e-mail.

Spam Waves might change that, but Rasmussen downplays that possibility. He acknowledges that any successful communication system will attract spammers but he believes the cryptographic controls built into the Wave protocol and the trust mechanisms being implemented will render spamming attempts largely unsuccessful. If he's correct -- and that's a big if, given the cleverness of spammers and malicious hackers -- it's not hard to imagine e-mail users fleeing e-mail for a communication system that supports greater individual accountability.

One of the most useful features in Wave is the playback control, which replays the evolution of a Wave over time, from the first message to the last. Wave's approach to change tracking is far more usable and intuitive than reviewing document changes with the Track Changes command in Word, for example.

Because they're dynamic rather than static, Waves should be useful not only for casual communication but also for structured communication like presentations and e-learning. A Wave for example could be used to administer an online test and, with the right extensions, could be configured to display answers after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Or it could be used as a channel that combines both archived information and live collaboration on a given subject. There's already a Wave gadget called Bidder that turns a Wave into an auction that allows live bidding.

Google's Wave is just gathering speed. But when it's ready, online collaboration and communication will be transformed. "I think people will build some amazing things," said Rasmussen.

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