UKGC10 session three: Google Wave

Shane Dillon led the post-lunch session on Google Wave. I’ve blogged about Wave a couple of times before, one a general overview and another looking specifically at what application it might have in internal communications. That being the case, I’m not going to repeat my comments here, but instead on my notes from the session itself.

Shane had set up a reasonably successful UKGovCamp wave ahead of the event, so those who attended the session had some practical experience of using Wave beforehand. It was perhaps telling that a few of us remarked this was the first time we’d logged on to Wave in weeks.

Shane is clearly a fan of Wave, and in many ways I can see why. It has some top notch features, enabling users to embed documents, maps, pictures and so on, and to play the conversation back.

In the context of the FCO it has particular relevance as it combines collaborative features with the asynchronicity of email – making it especially good for working across a number of time zones. In my earlier blog I made the same comment about its potential for use in the global charity where I previously worked.

Collaboration is good, and anything which makes collaboration easier should be applauded. But Wave doesn’t make collaboration easier, because the user experience is appalling, as everyone in the room agreed.

As one Tweeter remarked: if even geeks like us struggle to get to grips with Wave, what hope does anyone else have? Motivation is everything, and the effort vs. reward ratio is too low for Wave to make it worthwhile.

Part of Twitter’s appeal is that you can be up and running in seconds, and it’s so intuitive you can get to grips with it right away. Wave on the other hand, had a hour-long instruction video.

Wave also has heavy demands on technology, requiring an up to date browser and broadband connection. This could prove a barrier to adoption in the public sector, many of whom are still running IE6. Our customers and residents may find connection speed a barrier to adoption too, as broadband connections are unavailable in many rural areas, for instance.

One participant asked if Wave was something young people would be interested in. Whilst there’s evidence young people use the internet in different ways from older ones – eschewing email in favour of instant messenger and social networks, for example – I’m not sure this is something that would appeal to Generation Y, not least because it doesn’t (yet) work on mobile.

Wave’s apparent lack of success is seen by many to be a sign Google has lost it. The success of Google Search and Gmail – which totally changed the game in the respective sectors – means we forget that Google do fail occasionally, and should be allowed to if it encourages innovation. Who remembers Google Lively?

Perhaps we shouldn’t see Wave as it currently exists as a finished product, but rather a sandbox for potential features to be used elsewhere. If these are adopted on other platforms, they could become altogether more useful and user-friendly. Similarly, Waves could become more attractive once they can be embedded within other web content.

Wave is undoubtedly a powerful tool, and one Shane would argue is worth spending some time getting to grips with. Get you head around the clunky interface and strange public wave search, he contends, and you’ll find thousands of debates and discussions on subjects from climate change to Pakistani politics.

But while I can’t say I have such a yearning to relive early 90s ICQ chatrooms, I can see Wave functionality having some useful business applications – for online meetings, document sharing, newsgathering or planning, perhaps – if the user experience improves considerably.

So while Wave isn’t a roaring success, it may be too early to write it off as complete a failure either.