Google’s infinite strip: the brilliance in Google Wave

Imagine you had an infinitely-long strip of paper that you, and your friends, could write on anywhere along the strip. Imagine that you could write anywhere along that strip anytime, or even all at the same time.

That is exactly what Google Wave is. Except it’s not a piece of paper and using a Wave you can even have things automatically write to the strip (bots) and since we’re talking computers here we’re not limited to words, but videos, pictures, and, even information from other computer services, er, APIs. There are some new things you can do on a Wave too, like hold a vote. It’s a chat room, but not the usual text-only one-comment-after-another kind.

That is what is brilliant about Google Wave. Unfortunately they didn’t stop there and make that work right. Read a guest post in TechCrunch by Martin Seibert for a great analysis on where they went wrong (they stuck this infinite strip inside an email metaphor, which makes it nearly useless if you get more than 20 people interacting with you via Wave — my account is almost unopenable because it’s so unproductive).

But let’s forget the email interface because someday someone will strip Wave out of that crappy interface and give us its brilliance: just the infinite strip.

There still are some problems with just this part of Wave. There are two that I’ve found:

1. I can’t find where the good stuff is. I sat next to a Wave user at the Defrag conference in Denver. I could see that tons of people were putting good notes into a wave about that conference. But, quick, find the useful stuff inside that wave. You can’t. Why? For a whole lot of reasons. We’re going to need curation so that guys like me can overlay a map of where useful stuff actually is. Which brings me to point number two.
2. There aren’t permalinks that we can figure out. We need permalinks for each few inches along the infinite strip so that we can link you to a Wave and say “there’s value right here.” Right now I can’t do that, so I can’t point you to specific places in the Defrag conference Wave and say “check out xyz’s notes here, they are most excellent.” Now, I’m sure some geek will point out there’s a way to do it, but I haven’t figured it out yet and the guy I was sitting next to couldn’t tell me, so it must require some sort of Sergey Brin decoder ring.

That said, these two things are fairly easy to fix. But first the Google Wave team MUST get rid of the email interface.

I wish I could tell the team to free their minds. You won’t get more adoption by putting it into something that looks like email. All you’ll do is hide the brilliance and ensure it remains unusable and undiscoverable for lots of us.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

24 thoughts on “Google’s infinite strip: the brilliance in Google Wave

  1. The email-like interface should be your first clue that Wave is not like other social networks. It implies that the content you will receive will be unsolicited, and I think that's the point. The inventors set out to overhaul the concept of email in the first place, and the whole reason for email was to be able to send unsolicited messages. So really, it's not the email interface that's flawed, it's Google's intentions of replacing email with this new technology.

    But Google did manage to come up with a great idea that has other applications, and if you want to you can design a custom wave client that does away with the email-like interface (or wait for someone else to do it). The infinite strip can be turned into a wildly productive tool. Just don't expect Google to do it, they're too wrapped up in the email metaphor.

  2. The email-like interface should be your first clue that Wave is not like other social networks. It implies that the content you will receive will be unsolicited, and I think that's the point. The inventors set out to overhaul the concept of email in the first place, and the whole reason for email was to be able to send unsolicited messages. So really, it's not the email interface that's flawed, it's Google's intentions of replacing email with this new technology.

    But Google did manage to come up with a great idea that has other applications, and if you want to you can design a custom wave client that does away with the email-like interface (or wait for someone else to do it). The infinite strip can be turned into a wildly productive tool. Just don't expect Google to do it, they're too wrapped up in the email metaphor.

  3. I have had similar thoughts to your main point Robert. I prefer to think of Google Wave as a whiteboard or a noticeboard that you and your collaborators are standing around. You can all draw on it, write on it, rub things off, put pictures on it etc. This is *VERY* different to the email model (which is the same as the physical postal service model).

    I think explaining it like this will make it much more useful. Having a friend acceptance thing before collaboration makes some sense I think. It would have to be made part of the protocol.

    Seeing the acquisition yesterday of AppJet/Etherpad by Google for Wave is extremely interesting. Etherpad worked as an extremely frictionless way to get collaborating on text-only in real time. Share a URL and you're done. Wave is obviously more complex in terms of what it offers but I think it could learn a lot from the model. If we could have less interface at the wave website and it be more like just sharing a link to a live wiki the barrier to entry would plummet and people would start using it much more.

    Hopefully they're working on something like this.

  4. I think you raise some good points but ultimately it's not so much about the tool, it's actually about what you want to use the tool for. Take twitter and the follow all philosophy – for most people at least it just don't work (you may well be an exception to this rule Robert) and they drown in the noise. Wave will provide greater flexibility as apps come online to offer us the opportunities to use it for our specialist needs.

  5. I remember the original Google Reader interface was dire as well. I went to Bloglines because of it and it took me two years to come back.

  6. It's not the single wave that I'm talking about. Do you have any clue what my Wave environment looks like? Dozens of Waves and TONS of noise. Much worse than email.

  7. I'm confused by your statement. There is a difference between public and private waves. You have to be added to private ones by an existing member.

    Virtually all of the current public waves are unuseable for this reason.

    Robert, try this. Create a wave about a subject important to you. Add 5 people important to your subject. Don't add anyone else. Discuss the subject. Collaborate.

    Your problem is that you're misusing wave, I think.

  8. When I heard Wave described as real-time document collaboration, it excited me. When I finally got my invite, it was a bit of a let down – well, enough of one to say the words anyway – because I was expecting a merge of Word and GMail more than a chat room and GMail. But then, when has any first-10%-of-development Google product looked much like the last-10%-of-development?

    Primary agreement: Yes, being able to place our own bookmarks in Waves would be immensely helpful.

  9. In fact, you're totally right ; the email metaphor is maybe not the best thing that could have happened to Wave and really, what you pointed out is fairly right!

    But how to reference useful information on an infinite loop? How would you use a multi-users real-time edition tool with rich contents efficiently, in the way you mean it? I'm curious to have your feedback on that.

    For my part and for now, I mainly use waves as multi-users emails with rich contents… That's a lack of imagination but hard it is to change one's habits, I guess :-D

  10. I felt great anticipation while waiting for my Google Wave invite. Once I was finally able to try it out, I decided to gingerly stick my toe into the waters of Wave, and even then was on the verge of feeling overwhelmed. Getting to the relevant pieces of any wave is truly a challenge. The idea is still intriguing, and I do like the “infinite strip” concept you suggest. But the bottom line is that I engage Google Wave only rarely, because I soon find it too frustrating to attempt anything useful. But I hope that will change… perhaps soon!

  11. Robert, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Google Wave. We just spent our last class in Mari Smith's ISMA Social Media Certification program on this very subject, so this is very timely. I'm consuming as much as I can these days, and love reading your words–thanks!

  12. You're funny. I didn't invite a single person into Google Wave but hundreds found me. How did that happen? Because they put it into an email interface. They should have put it into a Facebook one where I could approve people to collaborate with me.

    1. You have a decent point about spam (or just unsolicited communication), but you aren’t really talking about the same thing.

      The cocktail party is the feeds – the tidbits of info and chatter coming at you. You’ve apparently made it your mission to be a firehose reader, you love it. If random people start showing up in your firehose (inbox, twitter feed, whatever) you could likely block them as with junk mail? Chances are, given your past, you hardly block anyone. And on Facebook – come on you were famous on Facebook for accepting as many friends as possible (mostly so that you could complain about it :), it’s funny to hear you talk about approving people to collaborate with you. That’s not a knock, it just doesn’t seem to be your style. You LOVE the firehose.

      The business/collaboration focus being discussed is in the individual ‘waves’ (threads). Hundreds of people don’t find you and put themselves on your personal waves, unless you or other participants invite them in. So your comment really doesn’t apply.

  13. I think the problem with some of your thinking is that you using the twitter/friendfeed model of social media — the open cocktail party model. Google Wave is more of the business problem solving model of social media (though it obviously can be used in a non business context. You invite a small group of people to focus a problem, collaborate on a development — others get added as deemed needed by the individuals in the group. Eventually the focus or collaboration leads to action and the wave peters out.

  14. I totally agree with your statement ” But first the Google Wave team MUST get rid of the email interface.” That one item is really crucial to unleasing the power of such a transformational communication tool.

    It is interesting to see how ingrained the “email interface” design is, even in today's software products. Need to devise new UIX to enable faster discovery and better organization.

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