The office that I work in has been abuzz about Google Wave and Becky has been gently badgering me to air my thoughts on it. I have been reluctant to give a definitive judgement on it, as I believe that like Twitter; it’s true utility may not become apparent until there are a critical amount of users on it.
It used to be that device manufacturers created a gizmo but the software on the device was the killer application (for instance the Apple II and VisiCalc, the Macintosh and Aldus PageMaker or the iPhone and 60,000+ applications), with the web the utility and the killer application is the network of people on there.
Google Wave does herald some changes in the web which may require consumers to alter their behaviour.
But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, what is Google Wave anyway?
Wave is a personal communications and collaboration tool. Say what? Google has looked trying to innovate by bringing together elements of different tools which are currently used by the members of the public to varying degrees: e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and social networks.
When you use it, the bits that are immediately obvious are the instant messaging platform and the ability to share video clips. The interface isn’t as easy to use as other Google products like GMail so its questionable whether it will eventually find widespread consumer adoption in its present form. It is interesting in that it shows Google’s thinking about web communications.
The biggest aspect from my perspective is the move from the real-time web to what I term the ‘thought-time web’. When you are typing via instant messenger you don’t display your message until you press return on a conversation. With Wave people can see your message as you type, if you’re like me you work out the structure of what you’re going to say in the dialogue box, editing as you go with cut and past. So having this transparency on your message creation may not be that good an idea.
With Wave you would have to use another editing programme and cut-and-paste into the Wave dialogue box in order to get the same functionality in message writing. this means that they can jump in at any point in the conversation and it also means message trails will become less meaningful as you can’t see the order in which responses happen against each other in the same way as IM.
A secondary aspect to this is what I think of as transient data. Think about it in terms of these two hypothetical scenarios:
- A vulnerable 12-year old is taunted by members of her class who write in a message of hateful language about their weight or colour and then cut-and-paste homework-related dialogue in over the top and hit the return key. The abuse happens in real-time with no apparent evidence that the child can point to in order to get aid from parent or school
- A consumer is looking for information about a camera, the customer services representative types in the specification of the model that the consumer wants at a too-good-to-be-true price and then cuts and pastes and presses return on a completely different, less favourable offer for the same price. The consumer doesn’t have a leg to stand on
Contrast this with the current culture of email and Facebook where is there is an evidence or document trail that the victim can use for recourse. The social aspects of thought-time communications a la Google Wave haven’t been fully understood yet and society’s way of dealing with the challenges are likely to take years to iron out.