Google Wave: Harder to Understand than Vector Calculus
October 20, 2009

by: Robert Wang

By now you’ve inevitably heard of it. Every here and again, you hear mention of its function, little blips on the radar of the collective consciousness that is the Internet. And yet, despite the articles and buzz, people are don’t seem to be able to pick out Google Wave from a hole in the wall.

At first glance Google Wave is every marketing executive’s wildest fantasy come true. The service is exclusive, offered by media darling Google, and the description is so laden with buzzwords that it seems like a sure-fire win. Unfortunately in the process of self promotion, Google has overwhelmingly succeeded in making themselves a product that borders on impossible to describe and to some extent, comprehend.

To give some sense of just how brain wrenching the project is, consider the following: Google published a tutorial video in an attempt to explain its brain child. At just a shade over an hour and 20 minutes, the video is roughly the length of your average romantic comedy. Regrettably, by the end, most viewers would still be hard pressed to summarize the service in a sentence or less.

Google Wave was released under the same invite program that helped build up hype for Gmail. Currently there are roughly 100,000 users testing the service, however, new users can only register through invitations they receive from current users or Google itself.

Consistent with Google’s previous policy, Wave is an open source project—meaning it will be increasingly more customizable and polished over time. So far it looks like their invitation for development has been well received. Open-sourcers are already looking to jump on the bandwagon, going so far as to bid on invitations to the service so they have a head start over their competitors.

As you read, prices for Wave invites on eBay have begun to climb. The highest offering already hangs at a steep $200 per account.

So why all the hype? Why are people paying hundreds of dollars for a service that’s still in its testing stage? Just what in the heck is this thing? In summation, users can invite other users to their “wave” which is a bit like a chat room in the sense that users can use it to communicate live. Users can submit, edit, and comment on content in the form of text, pictures, videos, Google maps windows, or even games. Everything is updated on a near realtime basis, thereby making collaboration and social interaction the real core function of this service.

However, Wave is still much more than that. The fact that the service is open source means that its potential applications are really limitless.

Provided someone takes the time to program an extension for it, Wave will allow for users to incorporate ANYTHING, and we do mean ANYTHING—even other websites, in your wave.

In many ways, Google Wave is a project with such myriad functions, that it’s very difficult to pin down and categorize. This sort of thing has never been done before and because of that, it defies explanation. Whereas most services will focus on performing one function extremely well, Wave seems to do everything communication-related at once and the end result is understandably tough put into words.

It is email, it is AIM, it is the wealth of information and entertainment that makes up the internet integrated into a single platform. It is everything and simultaneously nothing more than a blank canvas.

Wave was developed by a group of engineers who were essentially left to their own devices for months of development time and it shows in the resulting product. There’s no clear product, only amorphous potential.

Google has a real challenge ahead in marketing their new toy—and until they can figure out how to describe it in less than an hour and twenty minutes, the public will likely stay confused on the subject. Fortunately, WhirledInteractive has taken a step in the right direction, and released their own explanation of Wave. They aren’t the only ones. LifeHacker recently sent out a call for the best real life applications of Wave and hundreds responded with some of the most innovative things we’ve seen.

The Google team needs to take a page out of this book and present a marketing campaign that’s as creative as their product.

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