Google Wave is Not About Email

Boon - Google Wave_1255390358218

Everyone’s hyped up about getting a Google Wave invite. I have one and I don’t see what the fuss is about. Yes, I’ve seen the YouTube video, and yes I’ve watched the Developer Preview video too. It looks great and all, but seriously folks – it’s one complicated thing… next to email.

And this is why Google Wave isn’t about email. The same way computers aren’t (just) about calculators.

What it is is real-time collaborative messaging with historical playback. Which, granted, is very good for real-time anything. Except that real-time in human terms is highly contextual.

Because people have better things to do besides sit in front of their computers all day long, they are much better off carrying Blackberries and having push email rather than collaborative messaging. In my opinion, push email works just as well – because you don’t need to be in front of a computer to communicate with your colleagues.

Wave is also a tool. Meaning that the interface itself is not the message. In order for users to synthesize information, they have to make sense of it in a collaborative sort of way, which means paying attention to whatever is happening in that messaging window, which takes up at most 1/2 of the screen. It looks and feels like, a video player – but for messages. Think of IM on steroids, not email.

Email works because it’s mind-dumbingly easy. And because of that, nobody needs to take 3 week lessons on how to use email – and that includes your grandpa. And because it’s so atomic, it can easily be transported as a message to any other atomic messaging forms – SMS, blog post, forum post, IM chat, whatever.

Waves, on the other hand, are almost asynchronous streams – anyone can start writing content at anytime into a wave, and hope that it doesn’t make a mess of the conversation. Last I checked, people still pay attention to body language and subliminal messages, both of which are devoid in Wave but affects the way people communicate collaboratively and socially together – i.e. turn-taking and all that jazz.

Which part of a wave is atomic? You have to spend effort to calculate and decide. Then you have to find a way of “clipping” that message – and how do you make it portable? Can you cut and paste portions of your wave onto your blog? SMS? can you print it out?

Like email, most of what is published gets fixed in time. But a Wave, is a collection of content played out over time. Just like how photographs put together over time become videos. But with the added complexity of multiple sources of photographs, it becomes more and more difficult to separate and organize content in a Wave.

And that’s why Google Wave is not about email.

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