Waving at Elephants

Google Wave is, unquestionably, the hot new thing on the intertubes. Except it’s not hot and it’s not new but it is, to be fair, a thing. There’s a lot of folks out there telling you what Google Wave is. “It’s real-time forums!” chants one. “It’s the new email!” says another. “No, it’s IRC on steroids!” utters a third. And in a way, they’re all both right and wrong at the same time.

In that respect I guess the best way to describe Google Wave is that it’s an elephant, and we’re all blind men. Pity the poor man who thinks it’s got a tiny trunk and a small smelly mouth.

To my mind – and bearing in mind I’m just another blind man here – Google Wave is an old internet technology re-invented badly.

Google Wave is a broken wiki.

For those that don’t know, a wiki is a collaborative website which encourages editing and refining of content. Users can post and edit each other’s work in a spirit of beneficial anarchy and (in theory at least) all users take a share in improving the content as a whole.

Just like Google Wave, then.

But of course a wiki is much more than that. Most wiki engines offer fine-grained revision control so you can see who altered what and when, and rollback changes if required. They possess a simple-but-sophisticated markup language where it’s ridiculously easy to interlink between pages (usually through using CamelCase to denote a WikiPage – see, that’s two instant WikiLinks written right there. And there’s another one.). Wikis are also usually either egalitarian in nature or there’s a loose hierarchy of editors to control and moderate the site.

And that’s where Google Wave – for now, at least – falls down.

For all it’s real-time bells and whistles it’s not wiki enough. To really fulfil it’s potential as a real-time forum / email replacement / steroidal IRC it needs the very WikiThings it lacks. It needs the fine revision control (the current pseudo revision system is best filed under “gimmick”). Oh gods it needs easy Wave interlinking. And the Google needs to decide whether to be brave and open everything up by making all Waves public by default, or improve the permission system to allow finer control of participants. Either is good, really.

Of course, all of this may well come – Google Wave is, after all, very firmly pre-Beta.

Or it might not. Wait and see.

It all depends on who is looking at the elephant at the time.

(Cross-posted to the RPG category too as Google Wave is hot stuff among we gamers right now and I value your input on this.  ‘Kay?)

2 Comments on “Waving at Elephants”

  1. I agree with you. I’ve only been on it a couple of days and it’s not what I would call user friendly. The help information is ok, but limited and the how to video’s are more for Google Cheerleaders that anything else. Now all that being said it’s got potential to be a whole lot more. Finger’s crossed that Google will follow through with the grand start. Meanwhile I’m going to keep playing with it. (BTW greywulf thank’s for the invite).

  2. I’m not sure it should be more wiki-like. I think it offers an alternative to wikis for content that is better served by a more linear structure.

    However, I totally agree that the revision control needs improving. Simple support for links within a wave could be useful too.

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