First Wave Intact…

My waveAfter the initial anticipation, and what seemed an age until invites went out, I’m on Google Wave.

I’ve been on it for about a week now, enough time to start forming some opinions on what Google Wave is, what it isn’t, and what it could be.

Firstly, how I got my invite. Basically it was a sliver of opportunistic luck with a dash of cheek. I’d been to a Northern Digitals meet up in Manchester at the beginning of October, and being an early bird, met with a couple of others before the bar opened. Of these, we struck up conversation with Dave Kinsella, beers were bought and a good night was had.

When he got his Wave invites through, and tweeted to ask who wanted an invite and what was it worth, I bluntly reminded him he owed me a beer. Dave was good enough to invite me to Google Wave!

Anyway, when my invite arrived, around 2am on a Monday, I was up and at it, checking out what all the fuss was about. To be honest, it was a bit of a damp squib initially, as I had about two people in my contact list, both of which were sensibly fast asleep at that unearthly hour.

An interesting point about the initial Wave Preview is that everyone is given a new “email” address of yourname@googlewave.com. I use quote marks because you can’t send a traditional email to this address at the moment. With Wave being part the the big G, as soon as someone you communicate with on a regular Gmail basis signs up for Wave, they get added to your Contact list. This meant that my contact list grew quite quickly in a few days as other nerds I know round the globe got their invites.

I’m guessing that when Wave is rolled out into corporate environments at server level, or you use Wave with your Google Apps, you’ll be able to use your normal email addresses.

So, what the hell is Google Wave?

At first glance it looks like a smoother Gmail replacement. This isn’t a shock, as Wave is the reworking of the concept of email, including everything we’ve learnt since the first email was sent back in 1971.

One to one conversations are straight forward, but look more akin to an iChat/MSN conversation with comment/response patterns in order. Similar to email, very linear, no top-posting… if you’re both online however, it does become more like real time chat. You can see what the other user is typing as they put their thoughts onto screen (I’m expecting this to be a turn-off-able option pretty soon!) and the conversation soon becomes more instant messenger like.

However, when you start adding three, four, ten people to a Wave, you start to get a feel of how powerful/beneficial/fanciful this thing can be. Conversations splinter and trains of thought derail left, right and centre, with people chipping in and starting “blips” in response to specific comments. These are shown inline and indented from the particular post they talk about, but are also marked as unread for you to see what’s new.

Hitting the space bar will cycle you through all unread blips in a wave, speeding up your comprehension of what the fuck’s happened in the last hour and where have these last 30 messages come from and I’m really confused now!

There’s a really cool option called Playback, which lets you step through a wave, blip by blip (I hope I’ve got the terminology right!) showing which bits of text have been edited, who replied to what and when, blow-by-blow. Very good for that post analysis of a he-said/she-said scenario!

The waves can also feature widgets in them. Maps, Yes/No/Maybe polls, weather forecasts are a few available as default, and you can imagine there’s going to be a raft of useful widgets coming soon. I’m very interested in the blog integration aspect, allowing blog comments to be followed and interacted with via a Wave. Push this one step further, can we integrate Waves into our CMS system? Hmm…

So what is Wave? Well, it’s not the knee trembling new messiah that a lot of people hyped expected, but rarely are these new innovations (*cough*Segway*cough*) but with the chance to use the Wave Preview, I have a feeling Google are going to learn a lot about what Wave is by how people start twisting it to their own devices.

Wave seems to be that stepping stone between email and instant messaging, but leaning heavily to collaborative learning. You can leave your message for someone, and they’ll get back to you, or you can chat in realtime, work on a document and see the changes, share media and information via the widgets… in fact, I’m kinda convinced Google know they have something really cool and very positive, but don’t quite know exactly what it is yet. So with the Preview they’ve thrown the doors open to allow us to write the rules of interaction.

That’s what we’re doing, wave by wave.