Given the amount of hype around Google Wave since it was first announced, one would expect to be astonished and amazed by a radical new take on collaboration and Web development. Based on my initial tests, Google Wave has potential but isn't a game-changer-at least not now.
At this point, Google Wave is still just a developer preview, and it looks very much like one-with all of the rawness and the limited scope of features and capabilities that one would expect. Indeed, there isn't much in the Google Wave developer preview that hasn't been seen before in other Web 2.0 collaboration and mashup platforms.
But that doesn't mean that Google Wave doesn't have the potential to live up to its hype. There are definitely some intriguing capabilities in Wave that could easily be leveraged by inventive developers to build important new applications and systems. Only time will tell if Wave will be a major Google success like Gmail or if it will be tossed aside like Lively.
When first logging into the developer preview of Google Wave, the initial interface is one that looks very much like standard e-mail. In fact, it looks more like traditional e-mail than it does Gmail. I think that's a good thing, as I'm one of the many who find Gmail's stacked message style to be ill-suited to collaborative discussions.
At first, getting around Wave can be a little confusing, and I spent a good part of the first day of testing just getting used to it. But once I had my "aha!" moment, I found the tool to be simple to use and navigate.
The main dashboard interface is pretty standard e-mail, with customized folders and searches, a contacts area, and a listing of Waves in essentially an e-mail message list.
However, when you enter the main Wave area, which is where all the collaboration takes place, things change quite a bit.
First, a lesson in Google Wave terminology. A Wave is essentially a fully stand-alone discussion. A project management-type person would probably call it a project or a task. Within each Wave is a Wavelet, which is essentially a message that can be threaded as users reply to it. Each individual reply or entry is a Blip.
From a basic collaboration standpoint, this model works well. I could create threaded discussions and collaborate with others in real time. The one fairly unique collaboration aspect of Wave right now is that it shows collaborators typing in real time, with a colored box next to the typing showing the person's name.
Unfortunately, this identification didn't last. Each Blip or Wavelet showed the name of the author, but if collaborators worked within a Blip, there was no record of who did what.
Collaborators can embed pretty much any type of content in a Wave, from documents to images to video to maps. In general, this process worked well in tests.