By: Hillel Fuld
I am a big fan of Google. Generally speaking, I like using Google products whether it is Gmail, which is years ahead of its competition, or Picasa, which makes picture management easy and fun, Google has impressed me countless times when it comes to the usability of their services. Google Wave is different. If you have spent any time at all on Twitter or just listening to the online buzz over the last few months, you must have heard Google Wave spoken about, and if you did not, you need to get your hearing checked. Everyone is talking about it.
Before Google Wave was released, everyone thought it was going to be the biggest and most revolutionary online communication tool, and it would replace primitive services like email, IM, and even Twitter. “Those things are so the beginning of 2009”. When it was finally released, the whole invitation system, and the fact that Google only sent it out to 100,000 “lucky” people just caused even more hype, thereby raising the expectation even higher.
Now Apple has shown us that hype and buzz surrounding an expected new product can very easily be translated into dollars and cents, but that is only when the product being talked about, is actually a good one. Google Wave is not, at least not in its current state. It is true that under certain circumstances, it will help solve a lot of problems in the work place. It will fix the whole email mess when it comes to long threads, CCing people in the middle, as well as collaborating over a document.
I must admit, I am pretty sure I am missing something about the way Google Wave works, because to me, it seems almost pointless outside of the work place. I have yet to understand how this will ever replace Twitter or email as a communication tool, and I am therefore convinced that I am indeed missing something.
If I am working under the assumption that Google Wave does in fact bring something to the table, and that it will become a staple to every internet user, the way email has become one, I still believe that the actual UI is extremely annoying and hard to use. So whether or not this thing takes off, the following eight characteristics of the Google Wave interface must be improved:
- Scroll Bar: This is a classic case of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”. Have you ever heard any complaints about the standard scroll bar found on internet browsers, Web-based applications, or file explorers? I haven’t. It is therefore completely unclear to me why Google felt a need to change it. They added this fancy shmancy scroll bar that proves that sometimes less is more. I have to believe this new scroll bar adds some sort of benefits to the traditional one, but I have yet to find them. I am not even going to attempt to describe the Google Wave scroll bar, those that have used it, know what I’m talking about, those that have not, will soon, but you can see it in the screen shot below. Sorry Google, not feeling it.
- Spelling Mistakes: Probably the most talked about feature in Google Wave is the ability to see your contacts typing. I don’t mean like in IM in which the application says that your contact is typing something, in Google Wave, you actually see the person’s words as they are typed. Even with my developed imagination, I cannot see any benefit in this. I can however, see a lot of embarrassment for people in a professional environment. I mean, who does not make spelling mistakes, and use a spell checker before hitting Enter? Now, your contact sees all your mistakes and knows exactly what you got on your first grade spelling test. Why, Google, why? Yes, real time is the cool thing now, but this takes it a little too far.
- Noise: Even with all the advanced communication tools that we have today such as Twitter, which gives you the ability to carry out conversations with 20 people at once, at the end of the day, you can only read one sentence at a time. With Google Wave, you are looking at an already noisy interface, and watching numerous contacts type in real time, and are expected to carry out multiple conversations simultaneously. Now take into account that I have around 20 Wave contacts, I cannot even imagine the noise level people like Robert Scoble are experiencing when Waving (is that what it’s called?). Gives me a headache even thinking about it…
- Avatars: I am not sure if anyone has figured this out yet, it seems to be something to do with having a Gmail account, but the Wave avatars are moody. Sometimes they are there, then they are gone. I updated the avatar on my Google profile, it stuck and appeared in Wave, only to discover that it was gone the next day. This seems too basic of a feature to not work. If I am missing something about the way Wave avatars work, feel free to share it in the comments or on Twitter here.
- Contacts: OK, so if Google Wave is supposed to replace email and other tools, there has to be an easier way to find and add contacts. I am not suggesting an import tool from Facebook or Twitter, that would just be too much to ask, but how about Gmail? I am assuming Google can figure out a way to import contacts from their email service into the service that is supposedly going to replace it. Not practical? How about just the ability to view your email contacts that are on Wave and manually add them one by one? No? What about giving easy to remember screen names instead of complicated email addresses? Still nothing? OK, let’s put it this way, anything besides sending out a tweet to ask people who is on Wave and to add me, is a step in the right direction!
- Notifier: Real time communication? How about a built in notifier so I know when someone is talking to me? That is a pretty basic functionality that has been around since I can remember. It exists for IM, it exists for email, but when it comes to what is supposedly the most advanced online communication tool…”A notifier? Na, we can’t do that!” I know there are 3rd party notifiers out there, but this should be a built in feature or at least an add on. C’mon Google, seriously…
- Enter: Once again, have you ever heard of anyone complaining that hitting Enter to send an IM does not work for them? Me neither. So why Google decided Enter as a form of confirmation that you want your message sent will not be a part of Google Wave is beyond me. Having to press Done every time I want to send a message in Wave to me is a deal breaker. It is just pure annoying and the worst part, it is completely unnecessary. I have painted a whole picture of the day that the Wave team decided to leave out this basic functionality, and it involves a lot of alcohol. That is the only explanation I could come up with. Any other ideas?
- General Bugs: Now I know the version of Wave I am using is a very initial one, and that a lot of the bugs were expected and will be solved in the near future, but my impression of Google is that even their beta products such as Gmail, when it was released, are a lot better than this. Wave is full of bugs, whether it is telling me I have new messages when I don’t, or the fact that it takes you 5 minutes to find what message is in fact new and unread, or whether it is the playback feature, which fails more often than not, I would expect more from Google.
In conclusion, I do see some potential for Google Wave in the corporate structure, and it might very well replace email as a collaboration tool, when it comes to document editing and other such tasks, but in its current state, and unless Google makes some drastic changes, I am pretty sure the hype will disappear as fast as it appeared.
Please share your thoughts about this article with me on Twitter. Follow me here.