First Impressions of Google Wave

Earlier this week, I received my invitation for Google Wave. The service, which Google announced earlier this year, is the company’s concept for the next generation of online communication and aims to combine the static nature of email with the live interaction of instant messaging. While the interface is organized like an email inbox, with a message list in the left pane and message bodies displayed to the right, the entire display updates in real time. This means that changes to a “wave” (the service’s term for a message) appear as they are made; participants can see other users type their messages, make revisions, and add attachments such as pictures. Extensions are also supported, enabling users to add functionality to the service. As Google Wave revolves around collaboration, however, its focus is also a current source of weakness.

In order to use Google Wave, one must know other individuals who have received invitations to preview the platform. Using the centralized Contacts system accessible through Gmail and Google Voice (or directly at http://www.google.com/contacts/), Google Wave identifies other individuals one can use the service with. Unfortunately for me, only one name appeared when I first accessed the service, limiting my ability to explore its functionality. Rather than provide invitations, as Google has done with both Gmail and Voice, Wave allows users to nominate others to receive access to the service; as nomination does not guarantee selection, I have little choice but to make nominations and wait for someone to be chosen. In the meantime, I have been able to explore the Extensions function of Google Wave.

Presently, Google Wave comes with two default extensions: a yes/no/maybe gadget and a maps gadget. Both provide the functionality their names imply, allowing users to embed yes-no questions or maps in their waves. Wave users can also build custom extensions or add those built by other users, expanding Wave’s abilities to including everything from posting Twitter updates to providing recent prices for stock ticker symbols identified in waves. Again, while representing a promising ability, the Extensions function is rather limited by the newness of Google Wave. For example, no gallery of available extensions is provided within the user interface, nor is a settings pane present from which additional extensions can be added. Further complicating the matter of testing Wave’s extensibility, many addons are only available in the developer’s version of Google Wave (known as “sandbox”), while I have access to the “preview” version intended for end users. This being an early preview of the service, however, limitations are to be expected.

Overall, while I have been limited in my ability to test Google Wave, I am impressed with the potential that the service represents. The service takes an innovative approach to online communication and collaboration, provides a rich editing interface that also supports many attachment formats, is highly extensible, and has the potential to unite the myriad forms of communication in use on the internet today. Now if I just had more people to test the service with.

P.S. – At some point, I will hold contests for my remaining Wave invitations, so check back regularly for updates. I may also have some Google Voice invites to throw into the mix.