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!

Add-ons and Extensions for Wave? There’s An App Store For That

WaveMoving right along here, people, at warp speed, Google Wave is destined to get its own app store. Zee at The Next Web reports on the scuttlebut from the recent Google Technology User Group conference in London. App stores are all the rage these days, with Apple’s iPhone / iPod Touch store leading the charge. Now we are seeing similar venues for web-based applications, such as oneforty for Twitter. Sounds exciting? Consider a Wave marketplace that stocks applications for use within Wave as well as applications that run on the desktop, in the browser or across hardware platforms. Developers encouraged to use Wave’s API with the promise of a return via an app store are more likely to devote their best efforts towards creatively employing tech to Wave’s ends.

 Applications and tools are beginning to look more and more like Erector sets of old: if you are bored with the same old, just buy the add-on to re-ignite and personlize your experience to your specific need.

Add-ons and Extensions for Wave? There's An App Store For That

WaveMoving right along here, people, at warp speed, Google Wave is destined to get its own app store. Zee at The Next Web reports on the scuttlebut from the recent Google Technology User Group conference in London. App stores are all the rage these days, with Apple’s iPhone / iPod Touch store leading the charge. Now we are seeing similar venues for web-based applications, such as oneforty for Twitter. Sounds exciting? Consider a Wave marketplace that stocks applications for use within Wave as well as applications that run on the desktop, in the browser or across hardware platforms. Developers encouraged to use Wave’s API with the promise of a return via an app store are more likely to devote their best efforts towards creatively employing tech to Wave’s ends.

 Applications and tools are beginning to look more and more like Erector sets of old: if you are bored with the same old, just buy the add-on to re-ignite and personlize your experience to your specific need.

Google Wave – Initiated Version

For the last week or so, I have been playing on Google Wave. I can now provide at least an introduction to a hands-on account of it for Studio readers. (Thanks Carlos!) My initial impression is that it is an engaging mash-up of email, chat, wiki and collaborative tool. While it has aspects of each, Google Wave is most definitely its own animal.

The main screen approximates an email inbox, but that is pretty much where the similarity ends. If all boxes are open, you can see an inbox-like organization at the top left, called Navigation, with familiar categories, such as inbox and trash. You can see all of your inbox or only waves started by you. Bottom left shows contacts. Middle window shows the waves in which you are participating and far right shows the individual wave you select to view. If you commence a wave, it also shows in the far right column.

Wave Screen

As you can see from the screenshot, the inbox can look a bit overwhelming. But there are many ways to manipulate it and focus on the content you are interested in. Green-backed numbers show waves with unread information. Clicking on that wave brings you into the portion where the new information is located. Waves are not time/linear in aspect, but instead appear like conversational branches – responses to individual comments attach at the comment. There can be more recent entries showing at any point in a wave.

You can minimize any of these boxes, and bring them back up when you so desire.

For me, the single coolest feature of Wave is the ability to “extensify” your wave experience. Much like adding gadgets to the Firefox browser to customize your browsing experience, you can add gadgets, robots and extensions to the waves to modify the wave experience. The list of gadgets is growing. I have used the map gadget and I recently signed up with 6rounds so that I can use their video chat gadget (will report back on that one as well – the 6rounds site is a pleasure to play around with).

The downside is that gadget implementation is not as seamlessly easy as found in other venues or on other sites. You must add gadget URLs and/or include the robot as a wave participant from your inbox in each wave you create or edit.

I know many have complained about Wave’s complexity. It is, in fact, complex compared to other on-line applications. However, I am convinced the complexity can be overcome with experience (if I can figure it out, anyone can). I also see loads of potential here: it is a great means of targeting a group of contacts and collaborating on a plan, document, or strategy. I also think it could change the way we communicate on-line, if enough people are willing to invest the time and energy to learn the ins and outs of it.

It helps to bear in mind that it is in closed beta right now for a reason. There are bugs and glitches to be expected and it is fair to anticipate Google will improve it during this process. I found that downloading a developers version of Chrome and adding Google Gears helped with some of the bugginess.

I also imagine that Google and third party developers will look for ways to address the many concerns raised by users over the last few weeks and, maybe, even simplify the Wave experience for the masses before public launch.

Overall, I am impressed with what I have seen and I have not yet been put off by the bugginess. I recommend that anyone able to secure entry into the Wave beta give it a try. At the very least, you could get involved in  the process of helping Google craft a promising communications platform that might actually make our jobs that much easier to perform in the long run.