The buzz about Google Wave has worn off considerably (I’ve been unable to hand out the 18 Wave invites I have; if you want one, send me an email), but I also feel like I’ve used it enough to talk about it intelligently. I hear a lot of people still speak about Wave with confusion. They ask things like, “What is it for?” and “What am I supposed to do?”. People talk about running out of things to do in Wave. I’ve never really understood the thinking that leads to these quandaries. I tried analyzing it to understand it, but I don’t get it. So I’m going to try to explain how I’ve been thinking of it and hope that someone else can maybe bridge the gap for me.

What Is It For?

In a word: collaboration. It is not quite email and not quite AIM and not quite a wiki. It’s all of them. If you’re willing to wave someone instead of emailing them, you’ll get only a little bit of win out of Wave, which is that you can add someone in later, go back to edit old content and reply in line. That’s nice and all, but I think not enough that people really notice. Especially if the other person they’re trying to communicate with isn’t checking waves frequently.

The real win, in my experience, has been when I’m working with someone on some kind of document. For instance, some buddies and I want to put together a Gowalla Trip around the UT Campus. We started with a snippet that just had a big bulleted list of ideas from me. Below that, we discussed other ideas to add or not and all three added them to the list. Then we’ve been going around making the Spots and when we do, we add the url to the listing. It’s been a wonderful work flow; some of it has been real-time like a chat room and some of it has been asynchronous like email.

Similarly, I was working on some code and couldn’t figure out what was going wrong with a specific bit of it. I IMed a co-worker about it and he was trying to help me, but it was cumbersome because he couldn’t see the code (it’s a big campus). We switched over to a wave, where I pasted the code in. He could see it, edit it, reply in the middle of it. So much more efficient than using AIM.

So that’s the trick. Wave doesn’t have a lot of win over email if you’re telling your mom when to come over for dinner next weekend. It has a lot of win when you’re working with someone on some kind of document.

I Ran Out Of Things To Do

Well, yeah. That’s a bit like saying you ran out of things to do with your table saw. The same charge could be levied at gmail: if you don’t have any more emails to write or read, there’s not a lot else to do. Especially before people get comfortable with what wave is good at, you’re not going to have a ton of new waves. I, however, have had plenty to do in wave recently. Partly because I’ve been trying to find almost any excuse to use it so I could see what it was good at. This meant people replied to me there and some stuff wasn’t so good, but mostly nothing was amazingly worse in wave than whatever other tool we’d’ve been using for that interaction else wise.

So Wave Is Perfect?

No. In fact, I’ve found something that it’s pretty bad at or at least very awkward at: random chatting. If I IM a friend across the country to see how he’s doing and our conversation wanders in topic, I feel like wave is sort of too much structure. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to manage threading as topics shift and change (if I post a tangent, we can basically split the conversation thread there). On the other hand, it’s kind of a pain to have to manage threading as topics shift and change. When we switch topics, do I want a new wave? Not really. I’m just not sure what to do with that kind of thing. Maybe it’s a matter of discovering the right work-flow, but maybe not.

Relatedly, since Google has taken the liberty of linking my gmail/gchat/gcal/etc. account with my wave account, it would be nice to be able to take a gmail thread or a gchat exchange and import it into wave for further editing. This is especially when I’m in a random chat and the topic shifts to some project we’ve been collaborating on. I assume this is something that’s on the horizon, but as I’ve been using wave pretty regularly, I’d get a lot of mileage out of it now.

I also think there are some things wave is or will be good at that no one’s discovered yet. I think it has huge potential and I’d like to warn people off of giving up on it too early. Like so many things that are super valuable to know how to use and can change the way you work (or work/play) for the better, it’ll take some getting used to, some learning and some exploration.