Trying to get an invitation to the beta of Google’s new social networking experiment, Wave, is no easy task. With invites going on eBay for over £50 in some cases, you’d suspect that once you got inside the temple of Google, something genuinely impressive would be waiting for you. As it turns out, that’s not the case at all.
Once you sign up, sitting in your Google Wave inbox is a short YouTube clip that explains what the whole idea is. Introduced by a wacky man in a white coat called Dr Wave – jeepers, that’s genius – it’s explained to you that a Wave is a shared space where you can discuss, work and communicate with colleagues. Erm, that’s still not utterly clear.
So let’s have a go ourselves. In one working screen, albeit one split into windows, Google Wave lets you converse and share materials with other people. You do this via Waves. You start a Wave, which is easy enough, and invite people to join in. In that Wave, you can do pretty much whatever you want. We’ll be coming to more detail on that shortly.
The screen of the application itself breaks down so that you have navigation and contacts boxes on the left hand side, a list of waves as the second column and then a content box. It’s a logical layout, and basically allows you to deal with most of the admin on the left-hand side of the screen. The list of waves is organised by which is the most recently updated, and the icons show you what other users are participants in a particular wave too.
So those Waves then…? They can be a conversation, a shared video, a game of chess, a plug-in application or a mix of all of these. You can share your wave with as many or as few people as you like, but the crucial factor here is that it’s instantly shared. Thus, if someone starts typing into a wave, then the text immediately appears on everyone else’s screen without it having to be fully entered and submitted first. You can also, if you join a wave late, choose to play back everything that you’ve missed.
There’s a lot of flexibility as to how a wave can be presented and customised, and while it obviously assumes that you have other contacts using the service (easier said than done on a limited beta), there’s potential here. The fun is arguably in the gadgets, which cover everything from adding a simple, instant poll to more intricate games. If said gadgets take off in the same manner as Firefox extensions, then there’s some real promise here.
Understandably, given the pretty limitless possibilities afforded by Google Wave, many early beta testers have been quite lost as to how to get up and running. Fortunately, several guides and crib sheets have arrived online to give you some pointers, and if there’s a criticism of the service itself as initially presented to you, it’s that some more guidance would be welcomed.
Ultimately, Google Wave is a hard tool to assess since, not for the first time, it’s one of those services that rewards the amount of time and effort you put in. As it grows, and as it moves out of beta (although we wouldn’t dare to put a time frame on that), Google Wave certainly has the potential to be a useful collaborative service. It’s the level at which people embrace it that will be the defining factor.