Rory Cellan-Jones

Say hello, Wave... goodbye?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 9 Oct 09, 10:46 GMT

Last week, I promised to kick the tyres of Google's shiny new collaborative communications tool Wave - and to let you know how it looked.

Well, sorry for the delay - but it took days for the invitations I'd sent to friends and colleagues to arrive and without anyone to talk to, Wave is, well, pointless. But now that my colleague Jonathan Fildes and technology journalist Bill Thompson have arrived in what we might call the Wave community, I'm sitting ready at my machine and we can see how it might work - if they'd only heed my appeal to come and join me.

Rory Cellan-Jones

As you can see, I've worked out how to add a picture to the Wave - but I'm still slightly puzzled as to what to do next.

Ah, Bill Thompson has arrived and has also found out that you just drag a photo into the Wave. He's added a giraffe.


Another day has passed - and finally, Jonathan Fildes is on board. And here is his first observation:

JF: "As well as trying to reinvent e-mail and communications, it seems Google is also intent on reinventing the definition of a few words in Wave.
"The system has its own lexicon. A Wave, for example, is a threaded conversation. It includes messages and updates from everyone invited to the Wave - which could just be one person or several, like we have here.
"It's a bit like an e-mail that has been sent backwards and forwards between a group of people, detailing every reply.
"But in the case of Wave, each reply is given its own section. Each of these messages - known as a Blip - can be edited and commented upon by other people. This then becomes a wavelet, a subsection of the wave.
"Following me so far?
"Great, then I'll leave extensions, robots and gadgets to my fellow Wavers.... or you could consult this handy graphic from Mashable's Wave Guide.
"Incidentally, I wrote that little section in Microsoft Word and then pasted it in. It seems that Wave doesn't like that approach."

Well, thank you Jonathan for that - I'm sure we're all a little bit wiser. And my goodness, we've got another collaborator joining our wave - welcome to Stephen Fry.

SF: "Bit of a learning curve, but I suppose that's the point. Flakiness to be expected. Elements of a server-side Yojimbo, if any of you use that.
"/var/folders/9r/9r9eyhy-EbiaqRVMsWA23++++TI/-Tmp-/ on 2009-10-08 at 07.59.jpg
"That weirdness was an attempt to drag a Photobooth file straight into this Wave. Didn't work."

Stephen goes on:

Not quite sure about this 'Bill Thompson has arrived and has also found out that you just drag a photo into the wave' comment of Rory's .... I've tried dragging a photo in and it didn't work at all. That worked, but was uploaded by choosing the attachments paperclip above.

And he adds:

SF: "Hm.Wish I had more time to explore. might be useful....
"Most weird. I just dragged a movie file into this blip and got a black screen which played the movie. But the only way back to Wave was pressing the back button. I'm probably being immeasurably stupid...
"Weirdness upon weirdness. Strange Japanese or Korean script is appearing and disappearing and some text appears to be randomly yellow highlighted. Perhaps we've been botted. I shall tiptoe away before I do any more damage."

Jon FildesBye, Stephen, I'm sure it's not your fault. Nearly time to wrap up. Oh, just a minute, Jonathan Fildes - who's at home waiting for his first child to be born - has had time to chip in with this:

JF: "....very little of what Wave does is new. It just brings lots of different applications together into one place, swirls them around and dumps them on the beach. It has a little bit of IM, a little bit of e-mail and a smattering of Zoho or etherpad.
"All of these are "pure" applications - they have a very clear use and you know what you're getting and how to use them.
"With Wave, the picture is more confused. As one Waver said to me: 'I remain baffled.'"

Well, I'm not entirely sure that our attempt to use Google Wave to review Google Wave has been a stunning success. But I've learned a few lessons.

• First of all, if you're using it to work together on a single document, then a strong leader (backed by a decent sub-editor, adds Fildes) has to take charge of the Wave, otherwise chaos ensues. And that's me - so like it or lump it, fellow Wavers.

• Second, we saw a lot of bugs that still need fixing, and no very clear guide as to how to do so. For instance, there is an "upload files" option which will be vital for people wanting to work on a presentation or similar large document, but the button is greyed out and doesn't seem to work.

• Third, if Wave is really going to revolutionise the way we communicate, it's going to have to be integrated with other tools like e-mail and social networks. I'd like to tell my fellow Wavers that we are nearly done and ready to roll with this review - but they're not online in Wave right now, so they can't hear me.

• And finally, if such a determined - and organised - clutch of geeks and hacks struggle to turn their ripples and wavelets into one impressive giant roller, this revolution is going to struggle to capture the imagination of the masses.

Actually, I had thought that we were finished - but I see that Stephen is butting back in to agree.

SF: "Yes it's preview, (even when it comes out of preview you can bet your gmail it'll be in beta), yes it's new and therefore pardonably glitch-ridden and prone to hanging, but for the moment it's quite hard to see exactly how this contrivance of bolted on gadgets, widgets and tools quite adds up to a new wave of collaborative software.
"A major worry must be the spectre of rogue Blip-bots roaming the world wide wave, attaching themselves to public waves (public waves being one of the service's Unique Selling Points), worming their way into systems. It seems like one of those Imperial Stalkers in Star Wars - mighty impressive, but quickly made to look clumsy and far too easy to bring crashing down.
"No doubt I'm wrong, but that's my first impression."

Right. Now we really are finished. I think.


  • Comment number 1.

    You couldn't send me an invite could you? Thanks.

  • Comment number 2.

    When will Google bring out something called GetaLife?

  • Comment number 3.

    Rory, I am not in the wave but since you and Stephen Fry are, please could you ask him if he paid for the many iPhones which he showed last weekend on a programme that he made with the BBC about endangered species. He appears to own six or seven iPhones which seems quite unusual and it made me wonder how he came to have so many. Thank you

  • Comment number 4.

    It's also worth noting that I made a few wavelets that never made it into the Wave - I've been out and about and Wave let me make various edits but has refused to sync them - so I don't thinkRory got to see my comment that:

    "I'm finding the user interface rich to the point of fatuousness - everything seems to do something, but it's not clear what until you click it, and that may be too late. I also feel that my laptop screen is just too small - it needs a 24" screen to spread out a bit, otherwise it's hard to retain a sense of the conceptual space."

    But I'll persevere...

  • Comment number 5.

    Still early days, hopefully the little problems will be ironed out before it goes on general 'beta', the biggest problem facing Google is trying to get people to change their ways to use Wave.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks for posting this, it's enjoyable and insightful romp through Wave for those up us still waiting for an invite to arrive.

    One of the problems I think that Wave has is the lack of an obvious real-world metaphor to compare it to (e-mail = letter, IM = chat etc.) I suspect that this contributes to people's bafflement.

  • Comment number 7.

    Am I reading Rory complaining about lack of clear guide for Google Wave? Didn't you say in the Radio 4 programme, "How to Write An Instruction Manual" ( that you never read instruction manuals? What about this blog "Read the manual? Never!"

  • Comment number 8.

    Wave: big meh.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for the earworm!

  • Comment number 10.

    Seems like the very early stages of a technology that could be immensely useful. I definitely see Google Wave or similar as potentially groundbreaking for large commercial organisations trying to promote flexible working and working from home. Clearly still work to be done though! I wonder if the google engineers working on it are using Wave to share ideas in it's development, a sort of development tool, feedback loop, Bermuda triangle!

  • Comment number 11.

    I saw the wave preview on the video from their announcement so this is based on what I saw and have read in this review and others.

    The underlying concept is potentially revoltionary but it has been lost in an attempt to wow us. I say this as someone who has been working on a similar concept for a few months and I will try to explain what I think is revolutionary.

    It is essentially email in reverse. Rather than post a message out to a group of recipients you post and allow the group to view, whilst notifying them that there is something to look at. On the face of it this is a forum however there should be a subtle difference in its usage. Think of it as a set of public/private twitter groups and accounts.

    Where this is different to twitter is that in theory, you can run your own servers and link together to other servers and out to the world at large via the Google central servers.

    Seems to me that they have hidden this by trying to be too clever and not left it as a 'pure' app. If they had given the bare bones and a couple of working samples then the world would not be so confused. Furthermore it would allow developers to create add-ins to suit a given situation so that it is configured to the needs of the group concerned (social optimisation if you like)

    There is definitely the feeling of a race to get the killer social app and perhaps they have fallen foul of too much too young (with apologies to the Specials)

  • Comment number 12.

    One of the most entertaining dotlife posts for quite some time. Thank you!

  • Comment number 13.

    Thank you Rory, I always wondered what a bunch of doddery old self-proclaimed technophiles would look like in a group effort to program a VCR.

    Wave isn't for anyone who can't wrap their heads around the concept of an old fashioned mailing list service displayed in bulletin board/social network format with drag n' drop access to files. It also helps if you have the social skills to comprehend that the elusive 'Wave' is achieved by having a naturalistic conversation where questions are asked, answered and opinions are shared. Think of a Wave as being in a packed commuter train carriage where, instead of ignoring each other, there's newspapers being passed around and you're all comfortable with each others' proximity and open attitude to not be too concerned about asking what the person next to you is listening to on their iPod, watching on their phone, if the book they're reading is any good and vice versa.

    Grumpy old men pushing random buttons and slapping the box that "won't work" without taking the time to read the manual, ask what they want to DO with it, and how it would expand and enhance regular activities is an image that hasn't altered since the days of top loading Betamax players. And it's an image this pre-release test has only reinforced.

    It's the equivalent of pouring a glass of orange juice on your cornflakes and blaming the silly fool who designed the glass and the other who made the bowl. Don't forget there's a human mechanism in the middle, Rory, and try not to get orange juice in your cornflakes again. :)

  • Comment number 14.

    If Apple had invented it Rory would have loved it.

  • Comment number 15.

    I want to like Google Wave, but I need some more serious examples of what it is good for than planning a boat trip and making a joint photo album. Or rather, I want serious examples of things that I *cannot* do at present that I would be able to do with Google Wave.

  • Comment number 16.

    After my intital wave surf I can only conclude that its a hammer looking for a nail. And yet, when that nail turns up it might just be a golden one...

  • Comment number 17.

    I never imagined BBC reporters to be closet fans of World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade...

  • Comment number 18.

    Isn't a wave the recorded wafflings between a group of people down the pub.

    This metaphor seems quite apt to me as the bits at the start of a conversation seldom have much relevance at the end. And even less cognitive value after a few pints! The problem with it (a wave) is that you only react to the last thing you heard/read in real life, but the 'wave' gives spurious and equal importance to the whole history of the conversation. It is a bit like a joke - the scene setting is important, but the punch line matter, unfortunately, as in life - we all go on too long (Haven't I let myself open!)

    Now, if a wave was an insurance contract of questions and answers then the recording of the dialogue is important, but not in real life. (it has the same problem as continually replying to a email and including the sender's email with the reply. By the way, can multiple wavers 'talk' at the same time without 'listening' - as we all do down the pub!

  • Comment number 19.

    Call me a Luddite but I honestly can't see much difference (from the descriptions I've read of it at least) between this and a bog standard Internet chat-room. Does wave do anything at all that a Yahoo chat room couldn't 7 years ago or is it just a prettier looking skin and less spam-bots advertising dodgy websites?

    It sounds very much like with Wave Google are trying to present something as 'new' and 'revolutionary' when it sounds like all they have done is taken an already existing technology and just given it a lick of paint. I'm all for p2p chat-rooms evolving as it seems like they stagnated about 5 years back but isn't it a little over the top to try to pass a chat-room off as something new?

    Social networking websites are full of similar all hype little innovation projects that get touted by the media as the latest buck rogers style innovation when they're just a re-spray. A good example of this is twitter; essentially twitter is just you tube comments with out the video, nothing more, nothing less. Although, unless you have a very short attention span, twitter is essentially a step backwards the world and its dog in the press were falling over themselves to put up a twitter account to seem cool by informing everyone that subscribed to them things like "had beans on toast for tea, tasty" or "saw tim on bus, he is fat".

    So is there any real reason to bother with wave (other than Fry being on it) or is it another twitter?

  • Comment number 20.

    How do they make money from it? Is it free and surrounded by adverts? Do we pay? If it's the former, then I always ask myself 'how long for?' , because if at some point in the future there is an internet advertising downturn, will Google still be able offer this service ?

  • Comment number 21.

    very entertaining blog, thanks for the insight into their new tool. One thing to note is that this tool is still in Alpha testing so expect it to be riddled with bugs. By reporting them you all contribute to making the tool better (and before you think I work for G, also cuts their QA costs!).

    Sounds very cool and I look forward to the invitation to join

  • Comment number 22.

    Hmmm, looks extremely interesting. I understand it is invite only, would anyone mind obliging so I can have a play? Thanks....

  • Comment number 23.

    Wave, Farcebook, Tw@tter, etc, etc ....... all pointless.

    As #2 said, GET A LIFE ...... that's a real one,
    .... not an imaginary one with imaginary friends.

  • Comment number 24.

    Er, Rory, can you actually describe me to concisely two or three USEFUL things that this might actually help me to achieve.

    This is the BBC and healthy scepticism, rather being captured my media hype and converting it into churnalism is the name of the game here..

  • Comment number 25.

    Aren't google a little bit behind on this one? We already have Plebo, Farcebook, Myspaz and a few other "social networking" sites or similar "apps".

    I can't see that they will corner the market in the same way they have in the "search engine war".

  • Comment number 26.

    Google voice is the same way.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    By the way, the mashable diagram came from here

  • Comment number 29.

    Google Wave(r) sounds uncannily like a platform for a message board or forum.

    I've been a contributor to several fora run by Vbulletin software since 2003, and nothing I've read about Google Wave strikes me as fundamentally different to what is already available.

    Wave reeks of style over substance to me.

  • Comment number 30.

    Not the masses, but as broadcast journalists some of your might heard of News Management Softwares such as Octopus. Although, I haven't had a chance to use Wave [Personal details removed by Moderator] but if it kicks off and is reliable then it really could save some dough for news organisation - print or TV.
    Have a good one!


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