Google Wave:

Better than E-mail

Dec/Jan 2009/10

Just what I need — a better form of e-mail. I’m already addicted to e-mail, already a slave to it. Why would I want an even more powerful fix? Because it’s unbelievably cool.

E-mail is so familiar to us that it took a lot of insight to re-envision it, which is what Google has done. Google Wave is a new take on e-mail that revolutionizes the way it works. And I love it.

Like everything else Google offers, it’s free. The service is gradually being rolled out, so you’ll need an invitation to use it. You can apply for one on the Google Wave site. Also, some people have invitations to give out, such as my friend Bill. So I’m one of the lucky early users.

To get an idea what it is and how it works, take a look at a very helpful 8-minute video on YouTube.

The simple and central difference is that instead of sending an e-mail to someone, you start a wave (analogous to an e-mail message) and add one or more of your contacts to the wave. Let’s say you create a wave and add Joe to the wave. Joe, who must have a Google Wave account, then sees that wave in his inbox in Google Wave.

When Joe replies to your wave, he types a reply right into your wave. So instead of sending messages back and forth, what you’re really doing with Joe is communicating in a shared space, very much like a wiki (if you’re familiar with that).

So let’s say that the conversation with you and Joe gets really interesting, and you know that Sam would like to be involved. You simply drag Sam’s face from your contact list into the box that shows the participants in the wave, and now Sam sees the wave in his inbox. He can see the conversation that you and Joe have been having, and he can start typing into, too. Each message that you type into the conversation is called a “blip.”

I use e-mail in my work, and I often participate in e-mail exchanges that involve three, four, or five people. As the exchange goes on, it not only fills up my inbox, but it becomes very hard to keep track of who said what. And often I end up reading back through the thread, with all those levels of > and >>, trying to figure out how the conversation evolved and where things stand.

This has a lot of techie types really excited — just what they’ve been needing. A shared space of a wiki could do some of this, but Google Wave manages the conversation so much better and makes it so much easier to do things. And it has some incredible features.

One neat feature is that not only can you carry on e-mail like conversations, but also, if the participants are on Google Wave at the same time, you can carry on the conversation in “real time,” in a manner very similar to Internet relay chat. As you type your blip, the characters appear on the screens of the other participants.

Google Wave also has a range of collaborative editing features. Any participant in the wave can edit any part of the wave. You can see them editing it as they do it. Or if you close the wave and come back later and various blips were edited, you’ll see the changes highlighted.

Another feature is gadgets: functionality that you won’t see in an e-mail program. These are utilities that integrate into a Google Wave. The demo video shows two simple gadgets: an invitation gadget, in which participants click Yes, No, or Maybe, and it automatically tallies the responses. And a map gadget, which can insert a Google Map right into a wave. Anyone who wants to can create a gadget to use with Google Wave, and as you can imagine, the possibilities are endless.

The demo video also shows a wide range of additional stunning features, such as dragging and dropping photos into a wave (and of course others participating in the wave can add their photos) and then, with the click of a button, publishing the whole wave to a blog. Waves can also be easily embedded into any web page.

Other features include robots, which add the ability to interact with other systems, such as Twitter. One robot interfaces with Google’s translation engine so that people using different languages can converse. Amazing.

I can’t wait until everyone has Google Wave.

© 2010 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen