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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Debating the power of Google's Wave

We've had about a week to absorb the Google's pitch for Wave, its new experimental communication platform, and about a day to try the actual early "sandbox" build of the service. See our hands-on review. But there's more to talk about with Wave. It's not just an app, it's an important evolution in the philosophy of written communication.

People will see Wave in different ways. For some, it's a clever take on e-mail. Others will see it as instant messaging with new features. Developers will look at Wave's open specs and APIs, and see a framework for new collaborative apps. But is it really any of these things, or just a crazy experiment from Google's Australian outpost?

Is it better than e-mail?

CNET Editor Rafe Needleman:
In some ways, it really is. With Wave, you don't reply to a message with a new message, you instead add your reply to the message itself. When there are multiple people involved in a conversation, this can prevent a lot of confusion. There's only one "wave" in a conversation, not a volley of messages flying around that repeat each other.

CNET Senior Writer Stephen Shankland:
Gmail users accustomed to conversation view, which stacks the back-and-forth discussion into a single view, will have an easier time adjusting to Wave's ways.

And just as Gmail works best if you only deal with one e-mail at a time, Wave is good at only one wave at a time. That's fine for a lot of IM-like chats, but if you work in depth on multiple waves simultaneously, think about opening multiple browser tabs. There are boldface indicators of new activity in your inbox, which tell you who's active, but with multiple tabs you won't always see them--especially if your inbox gets crowded with new waves.

It's fun to play with now, but we don't know what using Wave will be like once we start getting overflowing inboxes of waves.

Right. Every Net communication technology goes through a honeymoon period where just you and your close contacts use it. Then the whole Net discovers it and your little paradise becomes just another conduit for spam, inane jokes, and trivia. Expect the same issues with Wave.

The thing everyone is going to make a big deal of in Wave is that you can interrupt someone who's carefully writing a message to you. You can barge into a message before they're done with it, demand the writer's immediate attention, and force them to shift from composing to replying. There will be a way to hide your real-time activity in Wave, but the default mode is real-time. It's interruptive and very different. There will be people who hate it.
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