So I got a Google Wave developer sandbox account. If you don’t know what Google Wave is, you’ve probably been living under a rock, and you should go check out the aforementioned link. It has a nifty video demonstrating various parts of it.
I’ve had time to play with it for a while now, and while it’s a pretty cool concept, is it actually useful for anything, or will it be?
To understand Wave better, you need to know about what the terminology used means. A wave is kind of like a thread in a forum, except anyone can modify it (no read-only mode at the moment). Waves consist of blips, which are single entries in the wave by users or robots. By default, waves are private. However, you can invite other users or robots to participate in your wave, or make it public.
A robot is an artificial Wave-client. When a human user uses the browser as the client, a robot is just a programmed client running on a server. Kind of like an IRC bot.
Robots can do everything a human wave user can – they can post blips, edit them, etc.
Waves can also include gadgets. They are similar to iGoogle gadgets, for example it could be a chess board or a map. Gadget state is synced to all participants of a wave, so you could play a game of chess with your friend on wave (after they make it so that you can’t move the opponent’s pieces, but let’s not get stuck on the small details ;) )
Here’s a screenshot from Wave with wave and blip indicated:
Robots and gadgets
I think a big part of Wave is robots and gadgets, because they allow anyone to extend the functionality provided by the “base”.
The sharp eyed might have noticed some robots in the above screenshot: Calcbot, Rssybot, Graphy, Tweety, Wikify and Wave Live Messenger.
- Calcbot is essentially a calculator. The screenshot above includes a blip from calcbot, displaying its usage instructions.
- Rssybot allows you to embed any RSS feed into any wave, making it a feed-reader replacement, as you could store your favorite RSS feeds as waves into a folder
- Graphy draws graphs. There’s a small graph showing in the screenshot as well.
- Tweety allows you to use twitter through Wave. It seemed to work rather well, with one exception: It did not update new tweets from your timeline. However, it would seem this is merely because the person who wrote it has not implemented it yet
- Wikify allows you to easily embed links to wikipedia into waves
- Wave Live Messenger, as you might guess from the name, allows you to chat with your Windows Live Messenger buddies through a wave. It worked, but it is rather rudimentary at this point, and a bit buggy
These are just some bots I tried. There’s a lot more, like a bot which converts text into pirate speec (yarrrr!), and as said, anyone can write their own bots. Hopefully someone will write a bot which implements libpurple and allows you to use the most popular instant messengers via wave. That would be very cool, and as Wave Live Messenger demonstrates, very much possible.
I have not tried many gadgets, mostly because I couldn’t find any definite source for good Wave-compatible gadgets. However, there are several ones that Wave shows by default, such as the chessboard visible in the screenshot, a Google Maps gadget where you can place markers for anyone to see, a “Who’s coming?” gadget etc.
You could also think of embedding youtube videos into waves as being a gadget. Yep, just paste a link from YouTube and Wave will display a little icon which you can use to turn it into an embedded video, which also works quite nicely.
The user interface is pretty similar to Gmail or other mail clients. However, it’s possible to customize it nicely, for example you can resize each column, or hide them. You can also minimize a wave into the area on top, which could be useful if you have a wave where you chat with your friends – similar to having an IM window or an IRC channel open.
The UI also shows various hints when you move the cursor around. Hovering over a blip will display some buttons you can use to interact with it, such as reply to or edit the wave.
In general, it’s very responsive, which makes it nice to use.
Stability and usability
A concern from some is that this a very ambitious project that’s might not work out.
The good news is that it works just fine. Not in Opera (stop being lazy bums, Google!), though, but I’ve used it in Firefox 3 and Chrome where it works quite well. There have been some days with a lot of downtime or slowness, but that’s probably because it’s not quite there yet.
Sometimes the Wave updates also seem to break the robots, but once again this is probably due to the fact that the API is not 100% stable yet either.
Wave is a viable email/IM replacement and more
This sums up my opinion of Wave: It is very much a viable email and IM replacement.
You can think of various other uses too: A forum, a personal/group wiki… Facebook replacement… It’s a very viable IM and Twitter client too, as the robots show – just needs some more polish.
However, right now it’s not very useful. This is because it’s not very likely that anyone you know is using it (unless you work at Google). At the moment it’s also a bit difficult to “moderate” a wave – you can’t lock or make it read-only, so every participant can edit everything. I hear things to limit editability are coming later, but even with them it may require some rules and restraint from the participants to make it easier to follow a conversation.
I think what Wave can be largely rests on the users: It depends on what kind of robots and gadgets people write. Without them, it still will be a good alternative for email and IM and perhaps some other uses, but with them it can be much more, and even the email/IM stuff will be much better.
Have you used Wave? What do you think?