Google Wave

In May last year Google released
Google
Wave
.
In August Google announced that they were
shutting
it down.

Wave was an editor that allowed multiple people to edit the same
document at the same time.
It was similar to the editors that appeared in the
labs during the early 1990s.
In this post I examine why Google Wave should have been the
perfect system for me, and why I never got beyond looking at
introductory video (and it was not because of lack of advertising).

Sitting in the Bulls-Eye

I cannot think of anyone more firmly in the target audience for Google
Wave than myself: I work the web, I know a bit about alternative
document organisation techniques, and I could get an invite without
too much trouble.

Google Wave presented me with a new way to
work with other people and the web.
Systems that are implemented with web-based technologies, such as
Google Wave, excite me.
That is why, I talk to people every day about what tasks they do,
and how web-based systems may or may not help them.
I love the web, and I enjoy designing solutions for people that use
web-based technology.
I get a thrill debating about how web-based technology works in with
the wider scheme of things.
Finally, I enjoy implementing designs — using a variety of
languages.1

Google Wave was based around a time-based method for
organising documents
.
I am very familiar with such systems, as they were the focus of
my thesis.
I was intrigued by Google Wave, how a big company would try to solve
some of the tricky problems with temporal interfaces, and how the the
solutions would be made accessible to a wide audience.

Last, and least, getting a Google Wave invitation was not a problem.
The World is not that big a place, as anyone who has played
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
can attest.

A Shot… and… A Miss

I seemed to be the ideal candidate to try out Google Wave.
But I never used it.
I can think of five reasons that I did not try it out: it would take
time to learn, I had no one to use it with, it didn’t seem useful,
it had technical flaws, and they did not pass Michael’s Test of
Collaborative Systems
.

The problem with New! and Innovative! systems is
they can be a pain to learn.
I have a background that is familiar with both the web and temporal
document organisation, but
I could not justify the time to learn Google
Wave.
2
In addition there is plain-old homeostasis: I am happy with
how I work (mostly).3

Google Wave will never work unless all your colleagues are
using it.

(There is no point having a phone if you have no one to call.)
Sadly, convincing others to use a system is a hard task.
I may have been able to convince my workmates to use Wave if I could
have found a good use for it while working alone.
However, Google did not present any compelling reason to use Wave
by yourself.4

I could not justify the time taken to learn Google Wave, but I did
watch
the introductory
video.

From the video (which was designed to sell the system) I had a big
question:
how would Google Wave would solve any problem that I
had?

It was lovely that I could edit a document at the same time as my
workmates, but if I needed to do that I would pull up a chair
at my colleague’s desk and work on the same document.
Currently I am in different time zones to my workmates, and so the
normal way of collaborative editing (by sending a document back and
forth by email) works really well.

In the demonstration video Wave had problems contacting the server.
This worried me: what if I had no network access?
Is broadband a requirement for Google Wave?
Finally, if Google cannot get a system to work during a demo, why
should I bother to use it?
Some
get excited about cloud computing,

but I still have my doubts, as I type this at the wrong end of
the
Southern Cross cable.

The final problem I had was that
Google never mentioned how undo worked in Wave.
Undo is tricky when dealing collaborative editing systems.
Imagine you are editing a document with someone else.
Things are going well, but you slip and mistype something.
No big deal, you hit undo.
What does undo do?

  • Does it undo your own edits, or the other person’s edits?
  • What if the other person makes a change that is based on the thing
    you are about to undo?
  • What happens if the thing you are undoing changes while your
    undo message travels to the server?

None of these are easy questions to answer, especially when dealing
with a network as unreliable as the Internet.
I smelt a rat.
If Google had solved the above issues they would be chuffed and would
have mentioned it.
If they had not solved the above issues then
the system is flawed and I did not want to use it.

So, for a variety of reasons I did not use Google Wave.
I guess I will have to stick to mailing lists.

Footnotes

  1. GroupServer is built around four languages. From
    most familiar to obscure they are JavaScript, SQL, Python, and
    TAL (which is an extension to XHTML).
  2. Apple took a different tack with
    the touch based user-interface.
    It was slowly introduced to the market, allowing both
    developers and users learn how the new system worked.
    • The iPhone came first, and was based around a phone, which is
      originally a tactile system.
    • Then they made the system more general with the iPod Touch,
      which is an iPhone without the phone.
    • Now we have an iPad, which is further generalised away from
      the phone as it does not even the same size.
      (My gut tells me that iPad owners are likely to have an iPhone,
      which would also help with acceptance.)

    I also suspect that aiming at the consumer market, rather than
    businesses, helped iOS based devices as learning an interface is
    akin to playing.
    Learning to swipe is part of the fun of owning the device.
    If you are trying to get work done, then a new interface is an
    annoying hindrance.
    (There is a reason that
    iPad applications are not developed on the iPad.)

  3. I am mostly happy with the tools I use at work, but
    I will get around to switching to Eclipse in the near future.
  4. Version-control systems — such as Git, Mercurial, and
    Subversion — are a collaborative tool that is useful for one person
    to use.
    I like to think as version-control systems as allowing you
    collaborate with your future self, which could be considered
    a different person, but I have a tendency to over think temporal
    interfaces.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.