02 June 2009

Testing Google Wave: This Thing is Tidal

01 06 2009 - Everyone’s been talking about it: Google Wave. Google’s super communication tool has been a top trend on Twitter, a focus of media speculation, and was even able to knock Microsoft’s Bing from the top of the news cycle. But almost all the hype has been based on the demos - almost nobody’s actually got to try out Google Wave.

Well, thanks to a few of our friends, we had the opportunity today to try out the alpha version of this groundbreaking new service. From creating waves to joining in on discussions, we put the newest Google sensation through the ringer. Does Google Wave stand up to the hype?

Still got questions? We’re still testing Google Wave, and we’ll answer questions in the comments!


Google Wave Interface

Overview: The interface, at first glance, mirrors email. It’s intuitive, quick to load, and boxed up into easy-to-divide sections. As you’ve probably seen from demos and screenshots, the left-hand column has not only navigation, but contacts, which is more important in Wave than it is in email. Each box can be expanded or shrunk just like any browser window or folder, so you can really control the look and feel.

Central to Google Wave’s interface is search - you create specific searches based on not only keywords, but activity, history, person, and more. We’re sure that there will be a large library of search commands useful in organizing your waves.

Another bonus: each box can be collapsed to save you room. You can also make it so that each appears as a small toolbar, saving you even more room.

The good and bad: It’s not as complicated as some other screenshots have shown. The huge selling point is that it’s customizable: you can add and remove different elements and gadgets to make it as complex or as simple as you want. We’re still not sure about what some of the commands do, though.

Overall assessment: Slick and easy to navigate.


Overview: Communication within Google Wave is more like an IM conversation than email, but with several twists. In the example above, you can see the power of threaded conversations. Users, instead of replying at the bottom of a wave, thread their conversation in-message. This makes following lines of thought easier. You can also see edits made by others via highlights with the person’s name to the right.

It’s also easy to add new waves. You just type in a message and drag friends into the box. It’s seriously as simple as that. On the subject of organizing conversations: this is done just like email, via folders like archived, starred, inbox, and trash. There’s a focus on adding searches and folders to organize different waves, wavelets, and blips.

Another big plus: it’s so easy to add files and images to all of your messages.

The good and bad: Replies are a bit funky. They sometimes appear at the top instead of the bottom, although Google in its debug thread states they’re going to make it easier and more predictable to do. Also, it’s still a bit slow loading, but probably will be solved in future iterations.

Overall assessment: It’s definitely more intuitive than email in terms of having a conversation, but it still has too many bugs to provide a definitive conclusion here.


Google Wave Extensions

Overview: Gadgets and Robots (Google Wave Guide) are the two key ways to extend Google Wave’s functionality. Adding gadgets is as simple as going to the top menu (currently called debug) and picking the gadget you want to add. Gadgets are added only within a wave. We personally would like to be able to create a box or two for useful apps like Twitter or the Basecamp project management system.

Yet playing with gadgets within waves is not complex at all - after adding Magnetic poetry, we were immediately able to use the app to move the magnets around, no problems at all.

Robots are easy to add to your waves…if you know the name of your robot. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to differentiate between people and robots. There should a search function or a better menu for finding and adding robots to your waves.

The good and bad: It’s just so easy to add gadgets and robots. Some of them need debugging, but this is an alpha platform. Organization for robots is lacking.

Overall assessment: Adding gadgets and robots is easy, but the organization still needs work. Can’t wait for more applications, though!


Google Wave Overall Image

Overview: Our initial impression of Google Wave is a very positive one. Despite being an early build, communication is intuitive and not cluttered at all. User control is even more robust than we first expected. You can already customize the look and feel of your Wave, and don’t think it will be long until themes and draggable boxes are in as well. We also want to note that it works by far the best within the Chrome browser, which makes sense.

It really seems to focus on contacts - on people - which we feel is the direction communication is taking. Email applications currently focus less on people and more on the content of the message. We think tools like Facebook and Twitter better balance the need to know the person behind a message and the message itself. Google Wave moves in that direction.

Finally, we would like to reiterate this point: it’s not as complicated as it seems at first look. It’s only slightly more complicated than your standard email client.

The good and bad: While still littered with bugs, Google Wave runs smoothly. The navigation is great, organization ranges between decent to underdeveloped, and the communication style feels more intuitive than email.

Overall assessment: It’s already got certain aspects, like navigation, absolutely right. With some great 3rd party apps and greater customization, Google Wave could actually match its hype.

We’re still testing Google’s new application. If you’ve got a question you want us to answer, leave a comment and we might just update this post with the answer.


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