It’s a hotter ticket than Kansas University basketball and currently more exclusive than the Freemasons. It’s a potentially game-changing technological advance and paradigm shifter. It’s all the rage online and has the technorati salivating like Pavlovian iDogs.
It’s Google Wave, and it’s so revolutionary — so bleeding edge — that no one, frankly, has any idea what exactly it does or even if it exists. You would be forgiven, in fact, for thinking Google Wave is a mythical fantasy in the same realm as Bigfoot or Tiger Woods’ marriage. Rest assured that it is not the Tooth Fairy and it will change your life. Or maybe not. It could just be another nerdy novelty like Wolfram Alpha. Remember Wolfram Alpha? Neither does anyone else.
“Google Wave is basically real-time e-mail and instant messaging in one,” says Jacinta Langford, one-half of Lawrence based marketing firm LangfordSevier, which specializes in social media. “It’s a way to communicate and collaborate in one hosted conversation without all the forwarding and reply-alls that e-mail is.”
As do so many people when attempting to describe Google Wave, Langford adds, “Does that make sense?”
It’s difficult to understand what Google Wave does without getting your hands on it. There’s even a Web site devoted to its inscrutable purpose called easiertounderstandthanwave.com (according to informal polling on the site, the Swedish Chef from “The Muppets” and The Geopolitical Climate of Southeast Asia are — among many other things — easier to understand than Google Wave). But since it’s still largely under wraps to the general public, we’ll just have to muddle through.
With your usual e-mail service, you hop on your Web browser and go to your account. You write the e-mail, send it and wait for a response. Despite all the electronic bells and whistles, it’s still a solitary experience not far removed from taking quill to parchment and sending it off wax-stamped with the courier boy.
With Google Wave, you still hop on your browser and go to a Web site like you would go to Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail or even Gmail. Rather than open up a window and start composing a new e-mail, however, you open a “wave” (groan). The “wave” is still a composition window, but it’s a literal window where the people you’re contacting can watch you write in real time. As you type in a word bubble — or “wavelet” (double groan) — on your screen, your friend can see your words unfurl on their screen. At any point in this process, they can open up their own word bubble and have a conversation with you in real-time. You can have as many people on a single “wave” as your heart desires, and they can all interject at any point. You can keep these instant chat rooms running for as long as you like and edit them at your whim. Add interactive gadgets like maps and instant polls to the mix, and you’ve got a very hearty stew of pre-existing Internet doodads synthesized in a new way.
Does that make sense?
“Wave is potentially a really effective way to create a ‘space’ for a conversation,” says the second half of LangfordSevier, Jesse Sevier. “As Jacinta mentioned, it’s a lot easier to keep what everyone said straight using a tool like this than the traditional way of forwarding and replying to e-mails. A lot of people have a hard time understanding the benefits and potential of a product like Wave because, for once, it isn’t targeted towards the bulk of users.”
Better for the office
And that’s why Wave probably won’t be as huge a phenomenon as Twitter or Facebook, as it’s better suited for discussing office work than it is for organizing “Twilight” fan clubs. It just might not be as sexy and user-friendly to tweens and stay-at-home soccer moms.
“We use it every once in a while to collaborate on a project,” says Langford of Wave’s business applications. “It’s good to use for brainstorming sessions. Businesses with different departments will find it useful because they can include each department into one wave and essentially do what e-mails would have done without all the mess. Plus, you can attach pdfs, photos, videos, etc., to a wave. I don’t think it’s going to be an e-mail/Twitter/Facebook killer. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using it, and it will take some time to catch on, but seeing that it’s a Google product, I think it will only get better and easier to use.”
Rob Schulte, Lawrence musician with the band Baiowolf, represents that section of the online community who are already suffering from backlash to the massively hyped application. “Google Wave is e-mail. That’s all,” says an underwhelmed Schulte, ironically enough via Google Wave. “Well, it’s e-mail for corporate (expletive)s who need conferences all the time.”
Of course, Wave is still a work in progress. It only launched to a select few in September, has less than a million users as of right now, and will undoubtedly be tweaked before its as-yet-undetermined gala premiere.
“I certainly think it has some monster potential, but we have to remember that the version we’re messing with right now is a preview version. We’re not even to the beta stage yet, so it’s hard to say if it lives up to the hype or not,” says Sevier. “The real test will come when we see how it’s received by the general public after it comes out of the preview.”
Even the skeptics are willing to cut Wave some slack or, at the very least, steel themselves for Google’s inevitable global conquest.
“What I know is that Gmail will just make this their new e-mail, so I better learn it,” says resigned Gmail user Schulte. “I think that this definitely is the way things are going, it’s just going be a bit until everyone is using it to its full ability. I mean, really, you could spend minutes — literally lots of minutes — deciding if you want Comic Sans or that one font that begins with a ‘T.’”
It’s the Wave of the future (triple groan).