Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

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November 25th, 2009

Initial Impression of Google Wave

Windmill

Windmill

I’ve had a Google Wave account for a short while now, but (like many users I’m sure) the slow invite system resulted in me having very few people to test it with.  Last night I had my first real-time three way conversation, and it really highlighted the short-comings of the current user experience.

The most irritating issue with Wave’s current UI is that it’s slow as molasses when lots of things are going on.  Scrolling fails to work properly, clicks don’t register when they should, and you get false clicks as the screen re-draws under your cursor.  This is in an up-to-date version of Firefox (3.5.5), on a fast laptop and with a fast broadband connection.  I think a native client rather than a web app would be a significant improvement in this respect, though I doubt we’ll see one from Google.

The next challenge is fundamental to the way that Wave works.  Because any user can start a new response to any part of the wave, or edit any existing part of the wave, it quickly becomes difficult to track what is happening.  I admit that we were messing around, but the volume of text we had was relatively low, and it still became tedious tracking down which edits you’d read and which were new.

So my first impressions were not overly positive.  Having said that there are a number of features that Wave has that really do set it apart from email & IM:

  • With the Wave hosted on a server rather than on clients, adding a new person to the wave takes effect immediately.  The number of “looping x” emails I receive show there’s a real issue with the way we manage who is included on an email chain.
  • Real time typing makes the conversation more “alive”.  It helps drive home the fact that you are communicating with a person as you can see their thoughts happening in real time.  As an enhancement to IM this is great.  As most good email is reviewed and edited multiple times before sending it’s not going to be useful a lot of the time.
  • Breaking conversations up so that you can reply inline to a specific part.  This is fairly powerful and should make complex exchanges much easier to deal with.  The GUIs approach for marking bits as unread is clunky, but is still an improvement on email.

While I really like the principal behind Google Wave I’m yet to be convinced that the current implementation will be good enough to replace email and instance messaging.

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Copyright 2009 Colin Stewart

Email: colin@owlfish.com