Okay – I’ve been surfing the Wave for a bit now, and I have to admit that my love for it endures. I’ve bombed around the public Waves, and I’ve taken a good long look at what the Wave has to offer, what it lacks, and what other people think it lacks. From what I’ve seen, most of the early adopters seem to feel that Wave offers too little in terms of control. The fact that anyone can edit anyone else’s words seems to scare the bejesus out of people. What they don’t seem to be getting is that this is one of the strengths of Wave. Wave is like a conversation you have in a room with real live people – you can (and will) be interrupted, people will put words in your mouth, and you will constantly have to deal with the fact people always hear what they think you said, rather than the actual words that came out of your mouth.
To me, these ‘complaints’ are precisely what set Wave apart from other apps. It makes it closer to real interactions with real humans than any other so-called ‘social’ application. To me, this is what makes it so much fun (even the fact that someone else can screw up and totally destroy your Wave. Again – just like dealing with other people in the real world). What I’ve found is that the changes most Wave surfers would like to see implemented would only serve to make Wave into something they’re more familiar (read: comfortable) with. Most (maybe all, come to think of it) of the ‘Wish List’ items I see talked about on various Waves basically boil down to desires to see it behave more like E-Mail, or instant messaging, or texting, or Twitter, or Facebook, or what have you. Personally, I like the fact that Wave exists in its own space. There are, however, a couple of gaping holes in the Wave that I would like to see addressed.
The Wave is being billed as a collaboration tool. This is all well and good but thus far I haven’t seen much about it that would make it especially suited to – well – collaboration. The general concept is there, but the necessary building blocks are (thus far) absent. For example, there is a distinct lack of integration with other Google products that would be particularly suited for collaboration. Google Docs, for instance. And GCal. Throw in Maps, Earth and Voice for the complete package. There is some integration, but it is clumsy and not suited to the non-Dork. I have managed to embed a collaborative document in a Wave, but the interface is not particularly elegant. I have seen some integration of Maps, but I have also watched while someone tried in vain to embed a map created with Google’s own My Maps feature.
There is, however, one Google property that has good Wave integration. Of course, it would be YouTube, the Google property least suited to actual collaboration. The integration is nice, though – just paste a YouTube URL into a Wave, and a helpful light bulb pops into existence, asking if you’d like to embed the video. Pretty slick.
The Wave sloshed around the developer world for a while before it hit the public. Because of this, there are already a fair number of Wave-specific tools floating around out there. I have seen a fair amount of these tools. Some are fun, some are useful, some are just plain silly. Blessed few of them are actually useful for collaboration (the few that I have seen tend to be specifically geared toward scientific communities – mostly tools that allow researchers to communicate with each other using the proper arcane symbology). I have seen Wave bots that will talk to you so that you don’t feel lonely. I have seen bots that will turn a colon and a parenthesis into an actual graphic smiley face. What I haven’t seen are any tools that allow for Wave organization. Waves, by their nature, tend to get slapped together rather haphazardly. It would be nice to be able to apply some sort of order to a Wave after the fact. Thus far, I haven’t seen anything that allows for this (outside of doing it manually in the form of a new Wave). A simple table of contents would be helpful (I hear that there used to be such a tool, but it doesn’t work in the newer versions of Wave). Throw in the ability to hotlink to another location within a Wave (something I have searched in vain for), and we’d really be in business. Update: There is one extension that shows a great deal of promise: The Mediawiki Wave Extension, although it thus far only exists in theory. I fully expect it to come into being, though, and expect it to answer many of my organizational complaints. I don’t, however, expect it to address any of my integration complaints.
The upside is that there are a lot of Geeks involved, and Wave is designed to be open and extensible, so I can hope that someone will come along and develop the tools I’d like to see (or, failing that, I could make them myself, although this is not an option for the average user). The downside is that the Geeks involved are – well – Geeks, and they’ve already shown us where their priorities lie. Which is why we have good YouTube integration, but no real Docs integration. And why we have bots for smiley faces but not organization.
It’s a Brave New World, folks, and it’s full of smileys and dramatic squirrels.