More thoughts on Google Wave (plus invitations)

By now, if you're tech-savvy enough to have found this blog (or the pointers to it on my Twitter feed), you've probably heard about Google Wave (if you haven't, look hereand here). It's been heralded as the Next Big Thing, as the replacement for email. and as yet another facet of Google's diabolical plot to take over the world.

None of that is really true; what it is, as far as I can tell, is a potentially great collaboration tool and a platform upon which another model of communication can be built. I say "potentially" because Google Wave as it stands right now is tremendously disappointing. However, it's currently just a "preview." making it the web equivalent of pre-alpha software, and it will undoubtedly evolve in interesting ways as people bang on it to see what it can do. Google's decision to open it up to invited users was seemingly designed to foster exactly that kind of public hands-on development, rather like letting a bunch of second-graders into a room full of Legos to see what they can create. The difficulty is that the Wave experience is not exactly an intuitive one. As Gina Trapani put it on the latest edition of _This Week in Google,_ Wave is unapologetic about this, and that it may not necessarily be a bad thing that there is a bit of a barrier to entry. I disagree.

If there is any feeling in the emerging Wave community that a certain level of difficulty is a good thing, they're dead wrong. There's a precedent for this, and it's called Linux. Don't get me wrong--Linux is a fine operating system, as long as you're willing to invest some time in configuration and are comfortable in the command line. But as a mass-market OS, it's largely been a bust. I've heard for years about how this could be "the year of desktop Linux," but it never seems to happen. This is at least in part because while some Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, have made user-friendliness a priority, there is still a certain segment of the Linux community that will respond to newbie forum questions with "Jeez, all you have to do is sudo gedit xorg.conf. RTFM!" Which is not helpful, to put it mildly.Rather than duplicate that kind of user experience around Wave, Google needs to do what Google does best, which is to innovate and make things simple but relatively powerful, if somewhat unpolished. Take Gmail, for example--compared with Hotmail or Yahoo, it's an untraditional email user interface, but most people can grasp what everything is, how it works, and adapt to it fairly quickly. Wave needs to do the same.

On the surface, the Wave interface looks simple enough (see photo above), but you can spend a couple of hours playing with it and still not figure out how to do something simple, unless of course you've taken the precaution of reading the ambitiously-named Complete Guide to Google Wave. So far, the innovation part is happening, and there is definitely power there; the making things simple is hopefully still to come. It's completely understandable that Wave in its current form is primarily useful only for techies and early adopters, but if it is to have a future with the general public, it can't be another geek fortress.And now, the offer: if you've read this far, haven't been scared off, are curious about how Wave works, and would like to try it yourself, I have invitations and I am giving them away to anyone who wants one. All you have to do is go to my Wave invitation pageand fill out the form. When I run out of invitations, I'll take down the form. Sound like a plan? Great. Then go fill it out, and I'll see you in Wave!