Google Wave

There was a recent buzz on the internet about Google Wave. It’s an extensible platform for allowing people to collaborate over the web. It also handles tasks like email and IM. I have to say: I’m just not that impressed. It looks an awful lot like a solution looking for a problem. My guess is that Google Wave will be something some edgy companies will use, but isn’t going to get much widespread popularity.

See the Google Wave presentation here (warning: the full video is 1 hour 20 minutes long).

The good things about Google Wave:
– It’s extensible and open-source. People can add-on to this platform, and that’s good. I’m sure some people will come up with some cool stuff.
– The contextual spell-checker is cool. The system can identify mistakes in these sentences: “I’m making been soup. I’ve bean there.” A spell-checker wouldn’t catch those errors because all of those words are spelled correctly. However, the google system can identify that you used the wrong words. (Note: Microsoft also has a contextual spell-checker within Word. You can check out details here.)
– The just-in-time language translator is cool. I’ve heard for a few years that google was getting good at translation. I hope it works well (and if it doesn’t, I’m sure it will get a lot better).

The weak things about Google Wave:
– Their system has an email-type system that can also function as an IM. The problem with this: what problem are they trying to solve? Email and IM work “well enough”. I don’t think there’s much of an advantage here to using Google Wave as your email system. The functionality – while cool – isn’t really improving things in any significant real-world way. My verdict: this feature will only be used by a few edgy tech companies.
– Document playback: they can replay how a document has grown and changed over time. That’s nice, but is anyone going to use this functionality – except in cases where people want to track down who made particular changes to a document (e.g. like a wiki)? It could be somewhat useful in a company, not very useful outside of a corporate environment.
– Collaborative document editing: Everyone can change a document at the same time. That’s nice. There’s actually a free product that does this already: etherpad ( It’s kind of cool. Not very useful for most people. I can’t think of any time within the last five years where this would benefit my life. A few tech companies might be able to use it in some circumstances.
– Ability to access twitter feeds, put photos together into a single page, collaboratively look at google maps, or mirror conversations on a blog. Not that useful. It’s cool that they can do it, but it fits more into the category of “neat technology, but more of a curiosity”. It’s cool that they made it so easy to do this stuff, but it’s not really stuff that people want to do.
– Ability to play games (like chess). I think this is a plug-in thing. I wasn’t quite clear on whether the system enforced chess-rules, or if it was just displaying a bunch of symbols on the screen to both users. Either way, I didn’t really see this as anything other than “look what I can do; not that you would actually want to do it”. The good thing about this demo was showing that Google Wave can display a variety of data.

I can’t figure out why they didn’t add VOIP (voice) capability. I’m sure someone will add it as an extension, but it seems like it would be difficult to collaboratively create a document without being able to talk to the other people you are collaborating with. Are you supposed to simply type your IMs to the other people?

I think they’ve confused “cool technology” with the question “does this offer any significant benefit to the user?” Yes, it’s cool. No, most people are going to ignore it because it isn’t offering them any significant advantage over existing systems. While they did their best to make it easy to use, it’s still too complicated for most users.

The contextual spell checker and translator are something that could easily be dropped into other products, so I don’t really see those as specifically “Google Wave” features. Which leaves “it’s extensible and open-source” as the only real selling point. Hopefully, we’ll see a bunch of cool stuff from users that will justify the existence of Google Wave.

June 1 Update: I just read a similar article over at – “A Curmudgeonly Look at Google Wave”