When I read the earliest excited reports on Google Wave, my first reaction was "sounds like IM on steroids." My opinion hasn't changed much since then. Google may call real-time collaboration within a window a "Wave," but I call it a form of instant messaging. Yes, Wave updates the idea by making it easy to chat with multiple people and share various kinds of content including documents, but it's still IM to me.
So how will that affect how work gets done at companies using Wave? Lars Rasmussen, co-creator of Wave, told silicon.com that enterprises are showing far more early interest in Wave than in previous Google products. And sure, I get it. Unlike wikis and other collaboration tools, Wave will make it easy for groups to work together in real-time. For certain types of decision making, customer service or process modeling, that'd be a big advantage.
Companies are also interested in the ability to build their own applications on top of Wave or purchase what could end up being a wide variety of third-party apps if Rasmussen's vision of a Wave "app store," akin to Apple's wildly successful one for the iPhone, materializes. As Rasmussen told silicon.com, linking Wave to enterprise applications used for tracking customer complaints, recruiting employees or producing financial reports could produce "real value" for companies. Already, SAP has created an app called Gravity that allows companies to collaborate on drafting business processes.
All of this before Wave becomes widely available. Google continues to issue invites for trials of the service and hopes the number of users grows to millions by early 2010. Barring any complications, a public release will take place by the end of the year, Rasmussen said. Wave will become part of Google Apps Premier Edition, a product that has won some enterprise deployments.
But Wave has detractors. ZDNet's Jason Perlow, after trying out Wave, writes he found the application "totally unintuitive, at least in its current incarnation." (It's worth noting that Google uses feedback from users like Perlow to iron out the bugs.) He says:
Wave requires quite a bit of understanding of wikis, revision control and object embedding and linking to be an effective user, and even having that experience alone doesn't necessarily make Google Wave particularly useful.
In particular, Perlow says he hopes Wave won't be added to Gmail, as it'll wreck Gmail's vaunted simplicity. He still finds other collaboration tools, including wikis and Web conferencing, more useful than Wave.
Google may make interface tweaks, and learning curves vanish as folks gain more experience with a tool. But what about the lack of a filter? Like IM, Wave may be as distracting as it is useful, as some of us at IT Business Edge have found.
And we're not alone. In a study published last year, researchers from Ohio State University and the University of California found IM boosted productivity when it was used as a substitute for other types of communications but was a distraction for workers when it was part of a communications cocktail including the phone, e-mail and face-to-face conversations. In another study, researchers Sinan Aral, Erik Brynjolfsson and Marshall Van Alstyne found too much multi-tasking lengthens work projects. A more recent Stanford University study reached a similar conclusion, that folks working with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who focus on a single task at a time.
Nicholas Carr touches upon this idea (somewhat dramatically, as usual) in his Rough Type blog, writing how e-mail's asynchronous nature, once hailed as a game-changing benefit, is now seen as a huge shortcoming, one that will vanish with Google Wave. He writes:
The flaw of synchronous communication has been repackaged as the boon of realtime communication. Asynchrony, once our friend, is now our enemy. ... The approaching Wave promises us the best of both worlds: the realtime immediacy of the phone call with the easy broadcasting capacity of email. Which is also, as we'll no doubt come to discover, the worst of both worlds. Welcome to the conference call that never ends. Welcome to Wave hell.
Earlier this year, IT Business Edge's Carl Weinschenk mentioned some issues that have stifled widespread adoption of enterprise IM that I think could hamper Wave as well: IT departments tend to view IM as another chore to handle, and one with a significant downside, since it is a real-time, which means complaints may start to flow the moment a problem arises. Vendors perceive IM as part of overall unified communications platforms, while potential customers judge its potential ROI on a case-by-case basis.