So, I’ve been trying to get my teeth stuck into Google Wave, but as most people I know have also discovered, it’s not altogether easy given its a collaboration platform and you need other people to collaborate with before you can start collaborating.
So maybe it’s just a matter of waiting till Google opens the release up beyond the limited preview stage and anyone can land themselves an invite. Except, I don’t think that’s the issue. After getting my account, I invited the rest of my team on and we all now have Google Wave accounts. Yet, it hasn’ t been used after the first day we set about testing it.
What Google Wave desperately needs is integration with the tools we’re already using. Now, given how much Google has targeted developers with this release, I think Google understand that, but I don’t think they should be relying on external developers to deliver this integration. Indeed, they really need to lead the way and show how all of their stable of products can integrate with Wave.
The problem is Google Wave isn’t really new – it’s really just a very cool mashup of tools we have already like email, IM, shared workspaces, etc. So the first reaction I got from my team was ‘I don’t see what’s wrong with just using Docs’ or ‘Why is this better than IM’.
So the first challenge Google has to meet with Wave is on a feature-by-feature basis it has to be better than the stand-along parts, which it’s not. For example, as a writing platform it’s not as strong as Google Docs. So its a tough expectation for me to my writers to stop writing in Docs and start using Wave.
Likewise, you can’t send a wave to anyone, so it’s not like people are going to give up their email for Wave and even if there was an email bridge, it would take Google a long time to make Wave as email equivalent to GMail as email. Likewise, as an instant communication platform its not as strong as GTalk, MSN, or any of the other flavours of IM. There’s something missing when you send someone an instant message-style like question and you can’t be sure they’re ever going to see it.
I really love the concept of Wave. However, I can’t help but think that Google hasn’t done this the right way. It’s essentially been developed as a skunk works project, away from the rest of the company, when I’d argue it needed to be built as a company-wide architecture play.
So for instance, if every Google Doc created was also a wave, instantly all of those Docs users would instantly be waving. If Blogger’s editing engine also created a wave, you’d immediately empower a significant portion of the blogosphere to be publishing Waves. When I reply to someone in a Wave, it should also alert that person via GTalk/Jabber. And of course, I should be able to create and participate in Wave via GMail.
For Wave to work, it needs a certain level of adoption and it won’t get that as a stand-alone product. If however, every user of Google products were waving without even knowing it, I do think there would be a real possibility it could displace email over time. I’d assume the kind of strategy I’m talking about would probably require a fundamental re-writing of all of its applications, which is likely not going to happen at this stage of the game for Google. Imagine, however, if Google has this architecture in mind five years when it embarked on its apps strategy.
As it stands, I’m sure there will be hooks and integration at some level throughout its product suite and throughout the broader web application ecosystem. However, until it can get a level of adoption so that a developer can see value in adding support for Wave, it is going to struggle to be anything other than an island. At this stage, it’s looking a likely candidate to take over Friendfeed’s crown as the coolest web app that nobody uses. I hope not, because conceptually, it is brilliant. But just perhaps it’s such a big idea, that it really does requires an all or nothing bet that Google can’t really make given where its apps platform is at. Who’d have thought Google would be having legacy app issues at this stage of its life cycle?