I finally got my invite to Google Wave, and it's a bit of a mixed blessing. Google's in a bit of a hard spot, because they have to live up to some insanely strong hype that was created by non-Google folks about how Google Wave Will Change The World! Google Wave Will Kill Blackboard/Windows/BinLaden/WorldHunger. Sure, there was some hype sparked by Google themselves, but most of the unrealistic stuff was spun by people dreaming about what Wave could possibly do, in some mythical Wave-enabled future.
Sure, Wave is big. It's probably going to be useful. But for now, it's really just a glorified, collaborative, polysynchronous "Hello World!" generator. Yes, you can embed Gadgets/Doodads/Whatnots. Yes, you can make it convert your text into Pirate Speak. Very cool. Awesome. I can feel the future changing.
So far, from my limited experimentation with it, it is too confusing to use as a conversation space. It's too disconnected to use as a publishing medium. So, its real functions have yet to be discovered. It's not email. It's not the web as we know it. It's something different. But that doesn't mean there is anything necessarily wrong or broken about what we have now.
If I want to communicate, I'll talk to people. Or IM. Or email. Or write a blog post. Or post a tweet. Or any of an uncountable list of other activities, none of which are replaced by Wave. And that's OK. It's not going to absorb and consume all online interaction. It's not going to change the world. It doesn't have to.
Now, get off my lawn.
Live-typing illustrates Wave's bigger problem: In many cases, the software creates new headaches by attempting to fix aspects of online communication that don't need fixing. What is Wave? Its designers say that it's an effort to modernize e-mail by adding features from IM, wikis, and other tools for collaborating in the Web age. Improving e-mail is a worthy goal: There's too much of it, a lot of the mail we get is useless (even the stuff that's not spam), and threads involving more than two or three people can get wildly, incomprehensibly out of hand.
But Wave tries to fix these problems by replacing e-mail with an entirely alien interface that isn't very intuitive and that introduces new problems of its own. You pretty much have to watch one of the Wave team's instructional videos in order to learn how to do the simplest thingsâ€”send a message, reply to a message, add more people to your message, etc. You've even got to learn a new nomenclature: In Wave, messages are called waves, which are themselves composed of smaller elements called blips. There's also another class of message called pings, which are meant to be more urgent than wavesâ€”though once you're done with a ping, it turns into a wave. Got that?