Google Wave – A Paper Tsunami?

May 10th, 2010 by Bob Byron

For those of you who haven’t checked out Google’s Wave, you should. Wave is many things, but if I had to give it a label, I would call it an excellent Document Collaboration Commander! Wave is the first place I go to write my blogs. It helps to jot down notes quickly; it keeps the document on the internet so I have access to it from any computer; and allowing a friend to review my blog is as easy as adding them as a participant (thanks Mike). When Mike and I need to write something for Club AJAX, we jump on Wave and both start banging out ideas. We don’t have to worry about duplicated efforts, because we can see what the other is writing, even as we are writing it. In fact, this synchronization usually propagates more ideas. You’ve heard me trumpet the paperless office before – think how much money Wave saves you from the multiple times of printing that document, proofing, highlighting edits, scribbling in the margins, changing, saving, and reprinting. Wave is a fantastic, free productivity and collaboration tool. But is it all that it could be?

Google Wave - A Paper Tsunami?

Wave recently changed. Wave still offers the same core features, but they have added to it significantly. You will notice that when you create a new wave now, you can still create an empty document, but there are also templates. How are you going to resist selecting the Brainstorm template on your next wave? You select that template and you immediately notice a big difference… you can draw. Shades of being a kid again! You have a nice full color Etch-a-Sketch, that you can doodle out little drawings (okay, its a bit more than that). What’s more, all participants can draw at the same time. Does anyone else see doodling during meetings taking on a team effort?

Collaboration

Collaboration is probably most prominent feature of wave. Sharing a document can be a big productivity booster. You’re able to work with everyone fairly easily and they can all contribute. The effort is as simple as clicking the plus button at the top of your document and choosing the people you want to add. As others are changing or adding to the document, you actually see that person typing in real time. You’re further able to see the evolution of this document through the playback feature that allows you to see each version. Combining these features, you, your friends and colleagues have the tools to strengthen your writings which result in a much better alliteration.

Rich Internet Application

The WYSIWYG Wave editor is probably standard fair in the latest web applications, and Google may not be the first to accomplish this, but they have a good implementation in Wave.  You’ll find the cut and paste capability Google built into Wave is stronger than most. Whether you are selecting multiple lines with the mouse or changing the selection with the arrow and meta keys, it works as you would expect a desktop app. They have a built-in spelling checker, which has been improved by adding grammar checking. Very cool and useful features.

New Templates

Instead of starting with an empty document as Wave did just a few weeks ago, you are now offered the choice of a number of templates – Discussion, Task tracking, Meeting, Document and Brainstorm.

Brainstorm is the most exciting of the templates.  The document starts with an outline that is very meaningful, giving you some basic rules about brainstorming. Brainstorming sessions are meant to be a positive exploration of new ideas. The outline you start with encourages those goals. But further, a collaborative white board is included in the document. Not only can you draw on it, but anyone participating in the document can draw on it as well. This is a neat concept.

Discussion fosters an environment where people can describe something and have the group vote on it. It seems helpful if you need a more objective way of deciding things. There is a voting gadget included in this template allowing an objective means for the group to make decisions.

Task Tracking really doesn’t seem that exciting. You start with the headings “High priority”, “Medium priority”, “Low priority” and “Not going to do”, but that is about it. It would be nice if there were more gadgets available such as supported hours per task, a completion check and some type of calendar interface. All in all, if you are looking for a template to provide a few lists with headers, this will work, but don’t expect much beyond that.

Meeting is again more of a simple outline template. It might be better titled Meeting Minutes as it appears to outline more of what went on during the meeting than it does for any coordinating of personnel. There is no selection of predefined meeting locations, there is no calendar integration, nor email notifications with which we have grown accustomed.

Document even surprised me a bit in that I was expecting an empty document like when you click on just the “New wave” button without a template selection. What actually came back was a general outline. You will see headings 1 – 4, each with a progressively smaller font. Examples of text color and bullet points were there too – pretty standard stuff, but it does work to get you going on your first wave.

As much as I like the concept of templates, I didn’t see any way to create and save my own.  I seem to be locked into to someone else’s view of what is good for me. Let me create my own personal templates, better yet, let me share them with my friends… or everybody on the Internet!

Extensions

Extensions are an interesting feature.  As the name implies, Wave gives you a way of adding new features.  You may create Robots, Gadgets and Extension Installers.  Robots act as a fake participant in one or many waves and sit outside of a wave.  Gadgets are embedded inside a wave and only have scope to that single document.  Extension Installers bundle a group of robots and gadgets together into a single package.

But I will focus on the gadgets as that is where Wave starts to take on a bit more interest.  Gadgets like Paint and Favoribility, add a power that goes beyond typical text editors. Go to the Google Wave Navigation box and select the Extensions option. There is a long and growing list of items to choose, such as a map or a weather gadget. It may not be obvious, but you can search for more extensions by selecting Extensions -> All and then enter something in the search at the end of the field. Once you know that trick, finding the gadget you want is easy enough.

When you choose a gadget, the install is fairly simple – just click the install button and you’re done.  You are then free to insert the gadget into your wave by clicking on it in your toolbar.  The templates above could greatly benefit from more custom gadgets integrated in the document instead of just outlines.

So What’s Missing?

As good as Wave is as a collaboration tool, it is missing some very basic features. One has to wonder why on entry into the application you see an “Inbox”, yet there is no button to send your wave as an email. Nor is there an easy way to save the file to your hard disk as a PDF, HTML or DOC. There’s not even a simple print button. Is it because of the extensions? A warning saying the extensions might not print, although not ideal, is understandable. My personal feature request? Output in WordPress Wiki format so I can just paste it into my blog and be done!

Since Wave is listed as a preview, some might think it shouldn’t be held to the high standard of a complete 1.0 product.  That argument might hold water if Google wouldn’t leave their products on the beta list so long. Gmail was a “beta” for over 5 years.   That example of over-use is most likely why they refer to Wave as a “preview” (which is another name for beta).  Wave was released to 100,000 developers in September 2009, then more public since November 2009.  The clock’s counting guys, you’re at over 7 months since the September release.

Conclusion

All-in-all it seems like Wave is half of a great application. For collaborative document development and extensibility, Wave can’t be beat.  The new templating feature is nice, but the templates themselves are not as useful as they could be. A way to add personal templates or even publish them would be helpful. Extensions add a new dimension to document creation and are worth a look. As the templates become easier to extend you are going to see a great marriage with extensions and collaboration. However, Wave is missing some key features like send as email, save to disk, and print. These issues need to be addressed in order to increase its usefulness.  This application stands ready to be a tsunami, but until they get those missing features in place it seems like more of a paper tsunami.

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One Response to “Google Wave – A Paper Tsunami?”

  1. [...] recently I slammed Google Wave for not offering some basic features like “Send Email” or “Print”.  But [...]