Google Wave: The Microsoft Bob of the New Millennium

Google Wave: The Microsoft Bob of the New Millennium

Summary: Google Wave, the new and highly anticipated workflow/group collaboration mashup web application which is in limited alpha test has left me underwhelmed.Over the weekend I became one of the lucky few to receive a Google Wave invite.


Google Wave, the new and highly anticipated workflow/group collaboration mashup web application which is in limited alpha test has left me underwhelmed.

Over the weekend I became one of the lucky few to receive a Google Wave invite. I was excited, overjoyed, and basked in my new-found elite status among the New Media weberati. For all of about ten minutes.

I see for the most part what Google is trying to do. It's trying to achieve the holy grail of workflow and group collaboration by tying the two paradigms of threaded email discussions and wikis together. Effectively Wave is a hosting site for disposable, single-purpose based Wikis and mashups.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

In a "Wave", you add a whole bunch of folks into a threaded discussion in which they can integrate text, hyperlinks and embedded objects into one singular mashup, using a revision control system that allows you to "play back" the order of changes that occurred to the entire collaboration process. Changes occur in real time, so you can actually watch people add and remove and modify content if the participants are all working on a Wave simultaneously.

Embedded objects in a Wave can include things such as videos and photos grabbed from Google search queries, maps, applets from third parties, as well as autonomous "bots" that can participate in the conversation, such as Wolfram Alpha. For example, if I inserted "%What is the population of Iran%" in-line with some text, and the Wolfram Alpha Bot was added to the Wave as a participant, it would auto-magically return the result in the in-line text. At least, it is supposed to. When we tried it, it didn't. This stuff isn't completely baked yet.

While I can see where this type of collaboration process may have some merit, I REALLY do not want to see this become part of GMail, because that is the natural evolution of what I am seeing, at least with this technology preview. The beauty of GMail is its simplicity, in that there's really no learning curve in using it.

There is indeed a significant learning curve with Wave, however. Wave requires quite a bit of understanding of Wikis, revision control and object embedding and linking to be an effective user, and even having that experience alone doesn't necessarily make Google Wave particularly useful.

I'm not sure it makes sense to integrate these directly into e-mail. Perhaps Waves should be dedicated, specially flagged threads that appear in GMail, so you know that you've been invited into one, but I hope it doesn't end up as the default container format for threaded e-mail conversation in GMail. That would just be God awful.

For the most part I feel the application is totally unintuitive, at least in its current incarnation. "Edit" is not even a default button, you have to find it in a pulldown or by double-clicking on a thread post. With the "Extensions", such as Wolfram Alpha, those currently have to be added to the Waves via URL or via a unique Google Wave identifier number.

Ideally, anything that you can insert as an object, even if it is of 3rd-party origin, should be populated in a catalog of browseable applets/widgets/objects. A centralized "Object Store" if you will. But Wave doesn't have one of these yet and frankly not many Wave objects that are particularly useful even exist.

It also doesn't help that a ton of stuff in Google Wave right now just doesn't work, period. Searches of images and video content yield nothing, or the search just churns along forever or may take minutes to return a result. Not what I expect of a Google product, even in Alpha form.

There are other ways of doing collaboration right now that make a lot more sense than Google Wave. Web Conferences such as NetMeeting, WebEx, Lotus Sametime Unyte and and other Internet-based whiteboarding/desktop sharing technologies are much more mature, as are various implementations of Wiki itself. I like the idea of "Disposable Wikis" though. Maybe someone else will come up with a way to perfect the idea.

So far, I'm not finding a compelling reason to use Wave instead of the other collaboration tools at my disposal, and I'm not seeing this as a major paradigm shift or sea-change application that others may view this to be. Perhaps it will mature quickly by developer adoption into an elegant and useful way of collaborating with peers that will enhance or replace our traditional collaboration technologies, but right now it's just UI hell without a clear purpose or an advantage over what exists today.

Are you too underwhelmed by Google Wave? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Browser, Cloud, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Google, Microsoft, Software


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Google Wave uber-whelms me

    Hi Jason,
    I agree that the beauty (one, at any rate) of gmail is its simplicity, but that aside, I think you're giving Wave short shrift. It's not so much an application as a platform for other apps and ultimately a way to drown Microsoft Bob, as well as Microsoft Steve, Apple Steve and any other Bob, Steve or Harry you can think of on the desktop. I just wrote about a cat in Wichita (not an actual cat you understand, that would be really amazing) who's already written a Firefox plug-in that notifies you when you've been sent a wavelet. No huge deal, except there's already a useful app and you're the only guy in the greater metropolitan area with a Google Wave account. I mean, wait until GA. (I go on about this in greater detail here if you're interested:;content).
    All the best--much respect as ever,
    Michael Hickins
  • I see why you are underwhelmed...

    I don't see why you would compare this to NetMeeting or WebEx. I don't think this is where they are trying to go at all. I think people are WAAAAAAAY to focused on the fact that you CAN do realtime collaboration. Its all they think about.

    From the get go they said its the evolution of EMAIL. And its quite a serious and needed evolution. Of you look at the way we communicate via email its inefficient yet its still the most common way of communicating and sharing things at work besides meeting face to face. When both or all parties happen to be at their desks at the same time what do we do with email? We bounce emails back and forth and end up with all sorts of spurs as different people reply in different places. IM would be better but you have to keep up and also have no good way of bringing someone into the convo without having to explain all over. They aren't going to get the whole transcript when they join the chat. Or what if you want to add them in after the chat has happened.

    Wave is like a mesh of email and IM. It basically moves at the speed you need it to, ensures everyone can understand how the conversation developed whenever they are added and ensures everyone sees all parts of the convo that they are supposed to. It doesn't matter if everyone is looking at the wave at the same time or whether they need to be added next week when most of the convo is already said and done. It can move as slow as email or as fast as IM. I really don't see how thats confusing to use vs email.

    I think what causes confusion and underwhelming performance is when people start worrying more about bells and whistles than the core product. And thats with any product. For some reason I don't go around inventing reasons to use every button and search box under every menu on an app. If an app is used to do X and do X and determine how good it is by how well it does X and not how many Y's and Z's I can come up with reasons to use. But even with that stated that Wolfram bot you described is off the chain.
  • "Underwhelmed" is an understatement

    The whole Wave communication model was the same thing Lotus Notes achieved 15 years ago in the desktop world. It's hilarious the same thing finally got regurgitated into the web world with a new name then "BANG!" you have WWW fanboys buzzing all over as if a new continent was found.
    • Things already invented

      I totally get you! I feel the same way about the Internet! Computers had the
      ability to store, reference and display information years before the Internet
      came out. Why is everybody going crazy over it and loving it? Same with cell
      phones - what's the big deal? We've had wired phones for years, and honestly,
      for millenia before that people could already meet up and talk face to face, so
      what's the big deal?

      The big deal is you don't have to be on the same local network to get the same
      benefit. Kinda obvious.
  • RE: Google Wave: The Microsoft Bob of the New Millennium

    Ok I thought I was the only one that just thought what is
    is the hype about because this has been here already. I
    feel alot better now.
  • Jason, very good post. Maybe calling it Bob is a little harsh, but, based

    on what you said, I will not even try it for a while,
    though a friend sent me an invite. I view this as NOT a
    replacement for email in the near future though. I think
    Google would be smart to keep it in limited beta for at
    least 2 years, and keep simplifying, simplifying,
    simplifying, . . simplifying, until it is usable. Then,
    it needs to have plug-ins for new data types that can be
    edited shared on cloud. And, if this just doesn't work
    out, Google will toss it and go back to the drawing
    board. Google fully understands that it will cost
    possibly hundreds of millions to figure out the next
    generation of collaborative real-time communication is
    after email.
    • Give me a break, the post is BS

      Jason is reviewing an ALPHA software program, which is pretty useless in itself, but calling it a failure before it even gets to the Beta stage is stupid, and wastes everyone's time.
      • Post BS? NOT

        I don't think so. The very idea of Alpha & Beta releases is so people like Jason can critisize the ap. And the Alpha stage is actually the most helpful point for this as it the easiest for the developer to mod intrinsic features.
    • Who to wave with?

      So I got an invite from a friend, and started to play. But I didn't get the ability to invite anyone else.

      OK, so they wanted a tight trial, but how can I experiment when I can only exchange anything with only one other person?

      One thing I liked a bit, at least the word processing/editting function is a tiny bit better than the rubbish on Google docs. Still not as good as Word for DOS though.
  • RE: Google Wave: The Microsoft Bob of the New Millennium

    I really think that you don't understand the concept, or
    you never really had to collaborate with remote coworker
    at a sustained speed. Wave leaves in the dust tools like
    Backpack, Basecamp etc... and IM is detrimental for group
    work because creates the illusion of communication, while
    Wave's accountability trail is awesome.
    • You would be wrong

      [b]you never really had to collaborate with remote coworker at a sustained speed.[/b]

      I share my desktop using any number of applications with my co-workers daily, using Lotus Sametime Unyte. And tons of workflow with Lotus Notes and Wikis.
      • Sharing?

        I think that if you look at Wave only as a current time collaborative tool, then it does seem to be re-inventing the wheel. What I see in it is the ability to truely collaborate with others without having to set aside a common time for a meeting.

        I have been racking my brain trying to think of a current (or previous) example of similar ability - a parable if you will - and the closest I can come is what we are doing now...the comments section. But with restricted commenters and real time viewing to eliminate overlapping comments.

        As I am typing this (thinking out loud sort of) I realize that while this is new and handy, it may well be socially poor. We will be collaborating without co-operating.
  • You sure Vista isn't "the new normal", I mean "the new Bob"?

  • Often truth lies in the middle...

    I'd like to think it's a bit more useful than Jason makes it out to be but probably less useful than others (Chris Dawson comes to mind) make it sound. After all, I doubt it's the second coming the way some have spoke about it. I can see the usefulness but I have to agree that, at least from what I've seen, it would be a disaster to see all of GMail converted over to this. I like the idea of tying into Waves via Gmail, just not as the default e-mail interface.

    At least someone wrote a blog about it that sounds a little more realistic, especially given Alpha status, than anything else that has been written.
  • Kinda Early in the Process

    No doubt a lot of work needs to be done on this. Good luck to Google. But is it cloud based? Ha Ha. Google has not had much luck with that :)
  • Nothing could ever be a BOB. Only Microsoft is capable of that! (NT)

    No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • RE: Google Wave: The Microsoft Bob of the New Millennium

    You clearly under estimate the power of open source. Wave is not an app, Wave is an open source platform where many application will live on and one day all you need is to open the browser and start to communicate.
    Albeit, it will take much longer for this platform to be mature and well received but look what Android can archieve in two years. That is the power of open source.
    Imagine you can Tweet, Facebook, e-mail (if you want to) etc. all in one web page.
    • What has the availability of its code got to do with its usefulness?

      Mutually exclusive.
      • Everything...

        ...because if you don't find Google's implementation to be useful others can take that advice and build a system that is.
    • Wow!

      Tweet, Facebook, and read email all on the same page?

      If that's the bar for mature Wave development, it truly is the next MS Bob.