Underwhelmed by Wave: Google’s Wave Falls Short

After chomping at the bit to get a Google Wave invite, the reality leaves a bit to be desired. While Wave has some interesting features and a slightly new take on collaboration, the current implementation has little to offer beyond what you'll already find in tools like EtherPad and Google Docs.

When Google Wave was announced earlier this year, it was met with more than a little excitement. Finally! Something was going to fix email! When Google finally started dishing out invites to Wave, though, the hopes were quickly dashed. Wave may evolve into something fantastic, but the current implementation leaves a lot to be desired.

First off, I’m all about efforts to replace email with something better. I get a massive amount of email, and collaborating with two, three, or ten people via email can get hairy fast. But I’m not sure Wave is the answer.

I received my invite about a week ago, and have been toying with Wave off and on since. The initial experience was disappointing not because of limitations of the software — but by limitations of my Wave-enabled social and professional circle. Basically, I only knew one or two people on Wave, so the actual collaboration possibilities were severely limited.

Early this week, though, several colleagues (including fellow Linux Magazine alum, Jason Perlow) manged to score an invite and we started working on a couple of collaborative documents. The novelty wore off really quickly.

Wave Features

Let’s take a look at Wave’s features. Wave is a collaboration tool where many people can chat and collaborate in real time with rich text, photos, videos, maps, and other goodies. You can add collaborators and play through changes — which is pretty interesting from a revision control standpoint, sort of. It sounds exciting, but there’s very little in Wave that’s not available in things like Google Docs or EtherPad.

In theory, by combining the email, IM, and collaboration metaphors, Wave could be the next big thing in online communication. As implemented, Wave is basically souped-up instant messaging or IRC.

People keep claiming that Wave is “new,” but other than lumping a few features together, I don’t see anything particularly new about Wave. Yes, stepping through changes is a bit more visually interesting than using “track changes” in OpenOffice.org or other office suite, but it’s also less functional.

The distraction level is exceedingly high in Wave. You can see what each person is typing in real time. This means you get to watch all of the typos, in real time. I’m not really keen on having others watch my sentences being put together before I’m ready to hit “send.” I’m even less interested in watching slow typists struggle to put a sentence together in real time.

Wave also needs some stronger access control. As it’s implemented now, if someone adds you and a few other contacts to a Wave, the other users on the Wave can automatically add you to their contact list and start initiating Waves to you. This could be undesirable if you don’t want to start getting Waves from someone you don’t know, but happen to be on a common document with.

Email allows unfettered contact (reply all!) but Google Talk has gotten it right by requiring authorization before allowing IMs. It’s a shame to see Google taking a step backwards with Wave. However, the company may still have this in mind to add before public release.

And what if you want restrict a collaborator to a part of a document, or to give read-only access? There doesn’t seem to be a way to do this in Wave yet.

I can think of scenarios where Wave would be useful, but can’t think of any scenarios where Google Docs, EtherPad, or Gobby wouldn’t be able to do the same thing.

The Jury is Still Out

Bear in mind that the current state of Google Wave is not the final product. For now, Wave fails to live up to the hype. This isn’t surprising, as Wave was seriously over-hyped from the moment it debuted.

Google hit such a home run with GMail (excepting its questionable uptime) and other Web apps that it was easy to think that Google might be the company to untangle the massive hairball that is email and introduce the next big thing in communication.

But, alas, not yet. Wave is an interesting idea, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t picture using Wave in a real work environment as it exists now. But give it a few months, and things might turn around.

Comments on "Underwhelmed by Wave: Google’s Wave Falls Short"


You complained about the distraction of real-time typing,
and a lack of fine-grained access control. Both are smop problems.
Also the distraction of real-time typing comes from a voluntary IM
way of using the application. The email concept means you log in two or
three times a day and look. The headline seems to promise smoking gun
bad news, but actually concludes with \”the jury is still out,\” which
we already knew.


I\’ll agree that there are plenty of applications out there that support a large subset of Wave\’s (current) capabilities. But I think you\’re overlooking the biggest step forward – federation.

Email became the de facto communication standard because anyone with an email address could connect with anyone else with an email address, regardless of what provider they used. And different providers were important because they not only enabled competition and feature-differentiation, they allowed security-conscious organizations to get in on the game. Email can be used for internal communication, never leaving the walled garden of servers you control, and still has the ability to seamlessly connect to the outside world.

Instant messaging was a similar situation. It didn\’t take off in the corporate environment until it was possible to run a dedicated private server. No one wants to trust their internal traffic to a third party needlessly.

Google Wave is the first next gen service I\’m aware of that has this breadth of features AND supports private servers AND runs on an open protocol that allows communication between all those servers. If anything lets it really take off that will be it.


I also find that the real-time nature of all the components can be distracting though. But I\’m confident there will eventually be settings to toggle most of it. There\’s already a \”Draft\” switch (not enabled yet) which you can activate on a per-message basis to hide what you\’re typing until you\’re done. I expect that to also evolve into an account-wide preference so you don\’t have to keep selecting it for every message. And I\’m sure there will eventually be a way to freeze a wave while you read it, or at least update it a full wavelet at a time instead of character-by-character. That\’s where the very-early-beta status of the project becomes a factor.


I think the key here is to look beyond the current user interfaces, and focus on the infrastructure beneath it. There is a new *federated* protocol, which is important for all the reasons @psychomike notes above.

Part of that is the new \”general verifiable federation\” protocol. That is what allows everyone to type at once, and stay consistent without having to lock a document across the whole Internet and suffer the inherent delays.

Federation along with the integration of authenticated identity (anti-spam), robots, gateways, extensions and apis gives it a huge advantage over many other approaches.

Currently it is buggy, slow, and complex enough that folks are trying to figure out the best ways to use it. It may end up not being a good fit for some of what it can do. But it has big potential.



I am underwhelmed by this article: fails to live up to the hype of its headline. I think you are overly critical for something that is so immature. It\’s like saying \”my newborn child falls short because she can not run yet.\” Maybe the reason it does not feel new is because today\’s Google Wave is just a convergence of existing tools. And perhaps a little let down because it is a small subset of those tools. I fully expect existing and new apps to integrate the protocol in interesting ways. For example, there are demo videos of a collaborative version of the Maya tool that is based on some the same technology as the wave protocol. Google could very well just make the technology popular enough to really become interesting. When you have a lot more people using Wave with real, purposeful activity, I believe it will be more compelling.


Agree strongly with ddennedy. The article complains that \”Basically, I only knew one or two people on Wave, so the actual collaboration possibilities were severely limited.\”, but misses the key point that Google has the brand image, brand loyalty and marketing muscle to ensure that most of us will use Wave assuming it is not substantially worse than the alternatives. That alone makes it extremely valuable, compared to say EtherPad.


I guess, now its very popular to talk against google..!.


Actually, the Google I/O Demo already showed it off quite well. Disabling the life typing can be disabled. But I find it quite useful, because often you know what the other person wants to say before they finish. So it speeds up the \’conversation\’. And heck, nobody is forced to use the IM mode. Some people use email like it is a chat tool. That\’s why many people hate email: it is not good as a chat tool, but _others_ try to force using it as a chat tool on them. Therefore we get tons of meaningless little emails every day. Google Wave will probably change this. And if people than agree on considering the \’chat\’ as not official, we can auto-delete the chat after x days from the waves forcing people to send the usual \”meeting note\” emails after important online \’chat\’ sessions.


There has been a new updated website on the Google Wave Federation Protocol, check it out here: http://www.waveprotocol.org/federationmoving

manawiz said:
Agree strongly with ddennedy. The article complains that “Basically, I only knew one or two people on Wave, so the actual collaboration possibilities were severely limited.”, but misses the key point that Google has the brand image, brand loyalty and marketing muscle to ensure that most of us will use Wave assuming it is not substantially worse than the alternatives. That alone makes it extremely valuable, compared to say EtherPad.

There is, in fact a seemingly robust group interaction on this page, and I think you are right about the brand loyalty. Unlike the Google Phone, I think Wave is here to stay.

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