Google Wave Out Of Beta

I just read that Google Wave has made it out of beta. Here’s my initial reaction, condensed in a form that connoisseurs of mumorpugers might understand best: /care

Actually, that’s not entirely correct. I do care. I care about it so much that I think Wave should die, and fast. Here’s why: it’s pretty much the epitome of software designed by highly skilled, and probably immensely intelligent software engineers. That is, it’s technically great, but it doesn’t really solve any problems.

The problem lies — to a degree — in defining what Wave actually is. Ask people, and few of them will know. Of those who profess to understand Wave, pretty much each and every one of them will give you a different explanation, some of them outright conflicting.

Now generally speaking I’d say that’s a good thing, provided it was a huge success. If it was a huge success and nobody could quite agree on what it actually was, it’d be fantastic. I’d be genre-defining, a paradigm shift towards something that … well, is new. Needs a new name. Such as wave. Then, henceforth, anything that’s similar would be called a wave. Fantastic.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not had that impact, or at least not on many people.

So let’s try a few attempts at defining Google Wave, just to run you through some of the things I’ve heard it is.

  • To some it’s pretty much an email client, that lumps emails together in a much better way than our current threaded or non-threaded displays. The thing is, many email clients have included GMail’s “conversation”-style interface, which already provides a different and arguably better form for displaying collections of related emails.
  • To some it’s an instant messaging client which persistently stores conversations. Which is pretty much what most instant messaging clients do, if you configure them that way.
  • To some it’s a collaborative document editing system, which is cute given that any run of the mill wiki has more functionality for, well, collaborative document editing than wave has.
  • Some love that it’s all of that. I can somewhat understand that: I like how on Android your contact list is merged, and you see how people on your list are online in an IM app or not, you can click on a contacts badge, and up pops a selection of ways to contact them. Merging all communications forms into one application seems natural to me. But as an IM client wave lacks, as an email client wave lacks… so it’s still (sadly) quite a lot more convenient to use either of the old technologies.

I’m sure people come up with more explanations to what wave is, but the above are the ones I can make sense of. And in each of those categories, wave is sadly deficient. It’s not a good email client. It’s not a good IM client. It’s not a good collaborative document management system.

I’ll grant you that there are most likely some bits here and there that it does well. The only one I can think of right now is the built-in translation thing. But that’s not a feature that couldn’t be implemented in other clients, so hardly counts as a defining feature of wave to me.

A friend of mine just teased me by summing up my apparent attitude like this:

I like me old teknology, and i aint gonna move forward for anyones. mark my word, wave is a fad, me says

The thing is, I absolutely don’t think that. I think email needs an overhaul. I like email in general, but it’s underlying technology is so flawed that it needs replacing. Just think of our feeble attempts at dealing with spam if you need an argument.

Instant messaging is nice, but I really don’t like how each IM account and each email account are essentially silos. I’d love to take a more OpenID-like approach to my stuff and maintain multiple apparent identities on the web that all merge into a single interface to me.

Part of why I still use Mutt for email is that it allows me to do just that: I have one inbox for all my email, and if I reply to anyone, mutt fills in my sender email address from where the original email was addressed to. There is no need for me to maintain multiple email accounts as separate folder structures. I don’t have to select which personality I want to reply to people as, though I still have to select that when I send new email. That could be improved: I could e.g. mark groups of people in my contacts list as business contacts and an email client could automatically pick my business email when I contact them.

I love wiki syntax. I want wiki syntax in … well, maybe not everything, but pretty much so. If I knew that my email would be displayed nicely formatted on the recipients’ side if I typed wiki syntax when composing it, I’d gladly do so. And as for proper wiki-editable online documents, it’d be great if each change that happened resulted in a notification in my inbox that I could just edit right there in my email client to update the online document again.

I get that some of these technologies are too old to be truly useful in today’s world. I get that people want to merge some of these technologies’ features. Oh I totally get that.

I just don’t see that wave is any of that.

  • Nicholas Dille


    I have never understood the hype about Google Wave and swiftly noticed that I does not solve any of my problems. As a matter of fact, I have been thinking along the same lines you described in this post.

    I have been up and down the web trying to find a social aggregator (of any kind) that provides an intuitive interface to popular and preferably less well-known social networks, instant messaging services and (micro-)blogging sites. Although there are some solutions that seem to be headed in the right direction they are lacking in one way or another.

    - I’d like contact to be pulled from all sources and displayed in a single address book.
    - Incoming messages are to be organized in a single list as well. I don’t care (immediately) where it comes from but who sent it. Interaction is more important than the source.
    - When I write messages, I don’t care about the service this person is connect to. I expect the message to facilitate an appropriate delivery method.

    There requirements or rather expectations are just the tip of the iceberg. I guess we could both continue colecting related ideas. But, alas, someone needs to solve this.

    Thanks for making my point ;-)

    All the best,

    • unwesen

      Yeah, well, you just go and get me money and I’ll build what you want :D

      Sadly, that’s my stock answer to so many of these issues…

  • Norman Liebold

    Wiedereinmal wunderbar auf den Punkt gebracht! Dass Argument, daß für die Google-Applikationen ein ständig aktiver Internetanschluss faktisch vorausgesetzt wird, könnte auch noch hinein.
    .-= » Norman Liebold’s last blog: =-.

    • unwesen

      Tja, das hab ich gar nicht erst komisch gefunden. Irgendwie schlimm ;)