Google was kind enough to invite me to a demonstration of the developer preview of Google Wave, straight from the Wave creators themselves.
Google Wave co-creators Lars and Jens Rasmussen last night treated a small group of journalists to the Wave experience in the Wave sandbox live from Google's San Francisco office.
I found the Wave experience promising, but buggy. However, I had a few things working against my session, as you'll soon read.
First, I attended virtually from my home office in Connecticut. I dialed into a conference call bridge and was on speaker phone for 70 minutes for the length of the demo.
Lars warned us right off the bat: "We've had a horrible day. Our indexers have fallen over, so we're having a little bit of a hard time getting Waves back and forth across the wire."
However, Lars and our small group of eight or so people were soon under way in a new Wave:
In the Wave, I found myself and the others contributing non sequiturs in a sort of real-time wiki -- editing each other's sentences.
Lars said he and other Googlers use Wave in meetings for collaborative note-taking and people don't even notice that some of the users aren't physically in the meeting room because the users are collaborating in real time. See how:
I'm not going to lie: I got goose bumps. The real-time collaboration was both freaky and liberating, a departure from one-to-one e-mails and instant messages.
Sure, I've done group chat before, but it's not the same. You can see the different colors automatically filled to delineate users. But Lars also tried to upload files, and this didn't work well today.
I watched the pictures he and others tried to pull into the Wave spin their processing wheels, but couldn't quite make it into the Wave. I sure rooted for them, though.
The collaboration happens so fast that unless you've been Waving awhile, it's easy to stumble across each other's words. You need to do a sort of Blue Man Group imitation, waiting to see what others write or do to know how to respond.
It was a blast. However, I kept getting crashes that looked like this throughout the demo:
In 70 minutes, I had to refresh my browser 12 times. One of the times, Wave did something weird and flipped my typed words backward, but then when I hit reply the browser crashed.
But my experience certainly wasn't optimized in the sandbox. For one, I was using Mozilla Firefox 3.5, which Lars told me Wave is not particularly good at handling.
He said my experience would have been optimal using Chrome, along with Google Gears, or even just a younger version of Firefox, which Wave was tuned to while it was in development.
Finally, here is what Google search looks like within a Wave. After the concurrent editing, it was the only thing I could access easily. Buttons for uploading files did not work for me.
What else can I tell you? Wave has been pushed out to more than 10,000 users, one-third of whom are Google employees; the others are third-party programmers. Many of them have lauded the Wave software despite the bugs. They are awed by its elegance.
Two months from today, on Sept. 30, Google plans to roll out the Wave to 100,000 non-programmers.
"We're working hard on three things right now: stability, speed and the usability problems that our initial users have uncovered [for] us," Lars said.
Google has a lot of work to do on it until then. Right now, it has lots of promise. I can't wait to use all of the functionality in a couple of months.
Farther out, Lars said Google remains on track to roll Wave out to consumers and some enterprises in late 2009 or early 2010.