i finally used Google Wave for a project …

… and all I got was a mutual agreement to abandon using Google Wave halfway through. But at least I realized some of the strengths and weaknesses of this new and hyped collaborative tool.

Shoot schedule, already in progress

Our three-person team collaborated on a holiday video project where various students — individually and in groups — sang lines from our alma mater. As concept/director/talent wrangler, I had a place to post an updated schedule of shoots and ask for thoughts when shoots didn’t pan out for technical or logistical reasons.

Posting clips for review/comment.

Our cameraman/first editor could post various takes and we could collectively decide which was the best. I had most talent sing more than one line of the alma mater so that we had backups for most parts, though the idea was to build from solo to larger groups while showcasing the campus and our students.

The ability to refer to various production elements worked very well, as did the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss in real time. So why did we abandon the wave halfway through? Because of weaknesses others who try to use it tend to cite:

1) Lack of notifications. It was quite possible someone would reply to one of my questions, or that the other two collaborators were having an important conversation, but I may not know unless they contacted me another way. Yes, I know there are plugins and the like that can enable notifications, but if Google Wave is all that and a bag of chips, shouldn’t it come standard?

2) Lack of anchoring. When I revisit any wave, I find myself arbitrarily plopped in the middle of the conversation, not where I last read. If Plastic.com figured out nearly a decade ago how to anchor so you could resume where you last read a discussion, you’d think the leviathan that is Google could have built it in too. The lack of anchoring particularly confuses when combined with …

3) Lack of adequate marking. For some larger waves, I can read the whole conversation and it will remain bolded in my list of waves. So unless you’re memorizing time stamps you don’t always know which waves have new comments. Worse is that once you hit a new day, waves are marked only by date and not by time. Our team works late and often has discussions after 11 p.m., but if I last looked at a wave at 10 p.m. Dec. 9, when I’m on Google Wave the next day, that wave is only marked Dec. 9, no time. And since even waves I’ve read are bolded, the lack of adequate marking means I rush back to check waves that are not updated.

In terms of user experience, the most common response among those who waited and waited for that Wave invite would be: Is that all? After all the hype, many just refer to it as a glorified chatroom and all kinds of waves started with subjects like Trying A Wave sit wrecked and idle like ghost ships. For a user experience analogy: Imagine working at a college where your prospective students, upon visiting campus, say: Is that all? Safe to say, we wouldn’t feel like we’re doing a good job.

But I come to neither bury Google Wave nor to praise it, but to merely provide a status report in its beta existence. Like Thursday’s child, the Wave has far to go. The ability to collaborate in real time while incorporating all kinds of media and documents points to a bright future. But the development team — and I’m sure it’s a large one — has a lot of work to do until it reaches a user-friendly level.

PS: I forgot! Here is the finished video project!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “i finally used Google Wave for a project …

  1. Tim – Thanks for documenting these pitfalls of using Wave for project management. We’ve had a few discussions about Wave in our office but I’ve been pretty nervous about trying it out for any sort of project. The lack of an anchor is one big concern I have.

    Maybe Wave would have worked for our 100 albums project. I actually thought about it, but figured our project was unwieldy enough as it was. ;) Perhaps in 2019.

  2. Nice work! I’m impressed you’ve all figured it out to the extent that you have… I’m still totally bemused :) I enjoyed reading this.

  3. First, you deserve kudos for even attempting to use Wave on a real-life project :)

    I’ve been tinkering with it, and I think your assessment is spot on. For me, lack of notifications is a big issue, not to mention the fact that a lot of my contacts are on Wave, but not on it, if you know what I mean. It gets lonely there sometimes.

  4. insidetimshead

    ANDREW: I think the collaboration by email worked pretty well for the Top 100 albums. Wave would have been great, in theory, but I think we’d more likely end up frustrated and scrolling through lengthy discussions. Maybe in 2019.

    FERNY: Your bemusement amuses me. Hey, ya gotta give it a try!

    JOE: Thanks for bringing up (indirectly) something I didn’t mention: The difficulty of finding people on Wave. I can’t seem to make the search work and someone has to feed me their exact Wave name for me to make them a connection.

  5. Couldn’t agree more on all the points you mention. I love the CONCEPT of Wave. The the execution is so beta-tastic. Definitely not ready for primetime or anything really useful. I tried using it to plan a lunch date. Same issues.

  6. Thanks, Tim! This hits me right where I live at the moment. I’ve been rattling around on a couple of those “ghost ship” waves and have one writer in my office who’s willing to give this a try in real life, but my biggest issues are among those you point to here: the fact that I have to tell someone I’ve sent them a Wave or I’ve updated a Wave, and the lack of context as to where I am in the discussion as it gets bigger and bigger. At the moment, Wave would just feel like one more thing I had to check more or less constantly if we were to use it to try to do real work.

  7. Eric

    Very interesting (and detailed), thank you. What did you end up using when you abandoned wave?
    (I just started using wave for a project and see it going the same way yours did…)

  8. insidetimshead

    CHRISTIAN: I think you summed it up perfectly in that 6-word sentence: I LOVE the concept of Wave. But concept and execution have not yet come close.

    LORI: There’s a massive post on use of Wave in higher education that I’ve long since given up reading, although people are adding to it constantly. If I had that kind of time, I’d probably try to read James Joyce’s Ulysses instead … it’s just as user-friendly. And yes, isn’t it enough I check Facebook, Twitter, three email addresses, two of my blogs and our student blogs, let alone having to check in on the Waves too?

    ERIC: We went back to email and an occasional phone call. Worked just as well, really, as our messages were right in front of our recipients and responses were very quick.

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