Time to Re-Wave?

Been a while since I talked about Google Wave in the Studio. Seems much of the initial excitement (zealotry?) has worn off. I was a fan of Wave back at the very beginning, from the moment I was able to successfully beg and plead my way to an invite. I am still a fan, although for me personally, the service still suffers a bit from lack of public participation.

As you may or may not know, Wave is a communication and collaboration tool that walks the fine line between email, chat and Google Docs. Participants in a Wave can edit in real-time and watch while others do the same. Wave’s are highly extensible – meaning that you can add “gadgets” to a Wave to make it perform tasks not normally associated with email or chat, such a mapping, gaming, polling, and video-conferencing. Lots of tools and flexibility, but, at least initially, not a lot of friends on it and not so easy to navigate.  

Despite a brief foray off the path with the introduction of Google Buzz, the brainy developers at Google have returned some of their attention to the Wave platform and recently trotted out a few new features aimed at making the tool more user-friendly. From templates for starting a Wave based on your intended purpose, to email notifications, from anonymous viewing of Waves (by those without a Wave account) to easier extension embedding, Wave has smoothed over some of its rough spots.

First, the templates. Wave now suggests six templates that you can click to start your new Wave. They include “blank wave”, “discussion”, “task tracking”, “meeting”, “document”, and “brainstorm.” Obviously, these are the most popular uses distilled over the past seven or so months since Wave’s introduction. Not only will your Wave be formatted correctly from the get-go, but it will be pre-loaded with the gadgets that are most useful for the task at hand. Nice.

Next, email notifications. Probably the last thing we need is another inbox – that’s why services like Threadsy that aggregate communications centers and inboxes are so popular. Wave initially was only accessible via its own little closed system, requiring that you frequently open and view your inbox in order to stay on top of developments. On the other side of it, if you don’t have a lot of Wavers to wave with, you might, like myself, forget to check your Wave-box for weeks at a time. New email notifications may be set to provide news of Wave developments at set intervals. This enables the user to put the business of checking Waves on auto-pilot.

Next up, Wave access for non-Wavers. People without a Wave account or those who weren’t logged into Wave couldn’t view a Wave. This was a big stumbling block for encouraging Wave use. With the addition of a little bit of code into a website, users can now “drop” a Wave anywhere and others can actually see the Wave update live without a log-in. You can adjust what casual observers can see and do with these more public versions of Wave, including limiting editing permissions to a smaller group while the larger group may view those updates as they happen. Cool way to present an interview or live-blog an event.

 

Finally, extensions. Fun as they may be, they haven’t been easy to find or easy to install on a Wave. I never was able to locate and add the wizard extension that provided instant translation. Now, your Wave inbox shows a menu in the left sidebar for “extensions”. You can view just the featured extensions or browse through all of them. Simply click and add. Much better.

So, what do you think? Would these changes prompt you to either return to Wave or renew your attempts to secure a Wave invite? I, for one, am glad they are still developing for Wave. I still believe Wave is an awesome tool for communication and collaboration that still hasn’t seen its best form or use or realized its full promise.

UPDATE: It works! I just got an email in my Gmail inbox advising of one new Wave in my inbox! Thanks Chris – I’ll get back to you on that this evening! Woohoooo!

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