Hot on the heels of my previous post on knowledge management, I thought it would be interesting to take a more detailed look at Google Wave.  Of all the announcements in the social media/collaboration space that I’ve had chance to digest this year, Wave has the greatest resonance.

Here I’ll tell you why and hopefully it will encourage a debate from those who are better placed than me to voice an opinion...

If 2009 has been the year of the social media expert (often somebody with no practical experience but a history of reposting stories, he wrote cynically...), 2010 will be the year of social collaboration.

I mean this in relation to business process and internal communications, not the external facing application of social media. At the heart of this trend lies the interactive technology required to foster collaboration and enable rapid information storage, retrieval, indexing and exchange. Google Wave is well placed to encourage this.

What is Wave?

If you want the official take, take a peek at Google’s own Wave preview, or else you can digest the Wikipedia entry. Positioned as a real-time communication tool, my take is that Wave is not actually yet fully defined (I doubt that even Google knows where it will go) and will evolve/adapt as the commercial application becomes clearer.

If I was pushed for a definition, for me it’s a powerful collaboration tool that enables disparate groups of people to connect, interact and exchange information in a dynamic way, where conversation is multi-directional and instant.

Wave is not IM or Live Chat

One of the throw away comments I’ve read is that Wave is basically a posh version of IM. Not true. IM may facilitate communication but it has inherent limitations. Message transfer is not instant, there is a lag as you wait for a message to be written.

This means conversation is staged, not fluid. IM is not multi-directional – the conversation is linear and you can’t play back specific sections when required, a key function of Wave. Perhaps the key difference is that in Wave you can have multiple mini-waves, or wavelets, enabling micro conversations to build around the principal conversation but without creating interference. IM can’t cope with this. Wave is what happens when IM gets bored and needs space to grow, and then some.

Under the hood: key functionality

Below is a snapshot of the core features of Wave:

  • Wave is a protocol. This enables other developers to build wave applications to enhance solution provision.
  • Open source. The evolution of this technology will be collaborative and community led and developers can build their own apps within waves.
  • Continuity. Users can open the Wave at any time, add comments and progress the discussion; this becomes iterative over time and the history is stored and easily accessible.
  • Real-time. Messages are transmitted character by character to mimic real life conversation (you don’t get a “John is typing....” command and then a download of everything); you can respond in real time to specific sections of a message.
  • Multi-directional. Participants can comment on conversation strands that they have not previously been involved in and playback previous sessions; this facilitates investigating and manipulating the entire history of the wave.
  • Private replies. You can specify recipients of messages if some content is sensitive and needs to be exclusive.
  • Embedding You can embed your wave on other websites and blogs, with wave content being displayed dynamically and in real-time.
  • Drag and drop file sharing. Goodbye attachments, hello drag & drop. Simply drag your file and drop it directly into the wave to give access to others.
  • Wave interaction. You can take content, including images, from one wave and drop them into a new wave, making content sharing quick and easy.
  • Auto-correction. Google Wave has inbuilt language monitoring to auto-correct things like spelling mistakes.
  • Mobile compatibility. Waves can be accessed and edited from devices like Android and iPhone.
  • Multi-language. Collaborative editing is supported via the interface.
  • Social media compatibility. Social gadgets can sit within waves to support networking and sharing.

Google Wave mobile compatibility

This is a top level summary – there are many other available features and more in the pipeline so Wave is, if you pardon the pun, fluid and in constant evolution. We’re at the start of unearthing its potential and that for me is exciting.

Wave in action:  driving global action around the Copenhagen Summit

Wave is not just a concept, it has already been applied. Led by Dave Crane, Debatewise used Wave to engage with children across the world to discuss the impact of climate change, centred on the Copenhagen Summit. The goal of the Wave was to allow children to talk to each other, to learn and exchange views and have a voice on a subject that will affect their future.

Providing a debating mechanism to support discussion at a global level, Google Wave was the ideal platform for collaboration.

The first phase in 2009 was so successful that Dave has planned phase 2 for January 2010. I spoke to Dave and asked him for his take on the value of Wave in what Debatewise is trying to achieve:

"The second phase of our project starts on the 18th January and will see our panel organised into countries or regions and asked to debate how decisions made in Copenhagen will impact on them. It is not entirely unsurprising that 120 world leaders couldn't reach an agreement in Copenhagen. We are asking countries to ignore centuries of mutual mistrust and to lay aside their own self-interest to make a deal.

We are going to have to work together in ways we have never done before to manage the impact of climate change. I believe tools such as Google Wave, mechanisms like debate and sites like Debatewise have an important role to play in helping to facilitate this process.

If you’d like to get involved in this in any way, by creating code for the open-source repository, finding panel members or adding expert views please get in touch. We’d love to have your help."

I love this example. New technology is being used to encourage global and local debate and encourage people to take action.

Key benefits of Waving

  • Ability to join in the discussion whenever you want – unlike a web conference, you can rejoin the wave at anytime and not lose the history of the discussion.
  • Can help build a consensus as waves are built on collaboration – essential to creating a movement and action.
  • Indecision is the mother of inaction – need to remove indecision and Wave can help this by giving people a forum for debate and information exchange.
  • Encourage participation globally – don’t need to go to a meeting, you can do it from home unconstrained by time like you are with web conferences.
  • Societal benefit – getting people together to share knowledge and ideas, strengthening communication skills.
  • Waves are flexible – you can cater for the needs of local and global teams within one Wave using the rich functionality.

New skills and practises will be needed to manage Waves

As with any new plaything, there is an adjustment required to get people using Wave effectively to communicate. Here are some of the things to look out for:

  • Keep your Wave clean. People can stray from purpose/goals and you need to be able to keep people on-topic and content relevant.
  • Guide the conversation, not control it. The personality behind the wave is important.
  • Learn how and when to edit the conversation. You can go back and change what you’ve written but do so sparingly to avoid disrupting the flow and retrieval.
  • Move towards greater collaboration, not individual domination.
  • Real time typing can be a threat. People worry about the impact of errors; there is a cultural shift in embracing this as real-time communication.
  • Participants need to be educated on the etiquette of waving. Understanding that conversations are as imperfect as conversations when speaking face-to-face.
  • Waving is not designed for one to one communication. This is for one-to-many and many-to-many.
  • Conversation flow can be personalised. Allow people to have a voice.
  • How do you make the right decision for the benefit of the wave? When do you leave? When do you edit? When do you need a summary? Who does this?

Google Wave wavelet view

Commercial applications

Beyond the inevitable excitement that a major Google announcement brings, I can see genuine commercial potential for Wave:

  • Support project management of projects that involve geographically remote teams.
  • Increase the immediacy of communication.
  • Reduce cost of collaboration.
  • Increase the ease of communication in a multi-agency environment.
  • Increase problems solving capabilities (reducing time & effort).
  • Enhance knowledge sharing.
  • Foster greater interaction between stakeholder groups.
  • Enable colleagues to influence meetings remotely via updating content and asking questions live in the wave.
  • Help manage the complexity of working across multiple time zones.

Will Wave replace everything you’ve known before? I very much doubt it. However, I think it can enhance your current toolset for knowledge management and internal communication to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of delivery. 

Based on my own work experience, Wave would be ideal for new e-commerce builds where multiple dev teams are involved; the group can be managed via a core project wavelet and then topic specific wavelets can break out to facilitate the different project elements.

You don’t need to distract people with irrelevant information but you do need a means of controlling multiple work and conversation strands in an environment that provides excellent information retrieval and review.

Further reading....

I highly recommend sitting back, cracking out the popcorn and working your way through the developer preview video from Google I/O. It’s long (1hr 20mins) and there is a little bit of industry love-in, but it gives you a great visual intro.

If you want to go further into the debate, there are a few blogs and discussion groups you can get stuck into:

  1. Detailed overview of terminology and technology from
  2. Google Wave API for developers
  3. Google Wave Federation Protocol
  4. Google Wave developer blog

Happy reading and please drop by with your views on Google Wave and the future or collaboration/knowledge management...

James Gurd

Published 4 January, 2010 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

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Comments (19)

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Only if they can get it to work properly! It is only a basic shell at the moment - great idea but needs a lot of work yet.

Having said that - if anyone can do it then Google can.

over 8 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

I worry that at the moment Wave is a solution looking for a problem. As much as I try to use Wave for work purposes, it feels clunky. I have no need to see people correct their spelling mistakes.

Whats really missing, is a good notifier. Wave ends up being something you think "oh I must go into that and check if I have anything new" - the lack of a proper iGoogle gadget is a crime.

However, ideally Wave should replace Google Mail. So, whilst it does support 1-2-1 conversations, you should have a "Turn into a Wave" option, that could parse inbound and outbound emails into a "live", threaded collaboration?

over 8 years ago



Of course it remains to be seen who uses it for what, since you're leaving all youur data at the hands of Google, and you're relying entirely on their ability (and desire) to maintain data and service ...

over 8 years ago


Oliver Conner

Excellent blog post - helped me remember my inital enthusiasm! I'm really hoping it will shine on the google mobile operating system - and that it will be a core element of the google operating system

over 8 years ago


Paul Gill

A pretty good summary of Wave. I feel for the Wave-less though, who without a Google account will neither see the Waves nor be able to interact. At least that's my understanding - unless you sign up to a Google account you are out of the picture.

Also, although it's great being able to replay edits on a doc they need to do some more work on version control for it to be used seriously in a client-supplier relationship where more formality is required.

over 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Evening all,

Thanks for the comments.

Matthew, I can understand you questioning whether Wave offers something of genuine value or not. I can see how Wave adds value to collaborative efforts but it is in its infancy and there needs to be further development needed to give it a polished finish for commercial application - that's why Google has made it open source and invited the dev community to get involved

Paul - is that really a barrier? If Google does insist on Wave users having an account, Google accounts are free, so if you want to use the tool, all you have to do is sign-up. That takes 1 min of your time. Currently Wave is through invite only and access is not guaranteed. I get the feeling there will be an extended period whilst bugs are fixed and improvements made.

For me the value comes down to relevance - if Wave can't deliver better quality than other tools you have available, don't use it. 



over 8 years ago

Mike Stenger

Mike Stenger,

I think Wave is a great contender for the next big collaboration tool. Although it may be confusing to most, there's a lot of great resources out there to get you up to speed, especially Mashable's guide that James shared.

For the time being though, Wave still does need some work but once people understand it further and get a bigger grasp of the great possibilities, we'll see a shift of professionals and even businesses and companies giving it a shot.

over 8 years ago


Michael McCurry

Hi James,

I thought this was a really nice post, with lots of information and certainly your perspective is clear.... you see the potential to Google Wave.  I also believe there is significant potential to this application and it is exciting to dream about the potential for its use.

Right now, however, there are some significant limitations to GW.  Most importantly I sense some major bandwidth issues with it.  I have an extremely fast and powerful Internet connection.  Yet, if I am on a wave simultaneously with 4-5 people, the application becomes extremely laggy.  The public waves, with lots of people on them are intolerable.

I know it is in the Pre-release stage so I am sure Google developers are very much aware of this problem.  But, in order for Google Wave to achieve its true potential as a collaboration tool, that bandwidth issue must be fixed.  Also, the other challenge is frequently data is lost because it does not sync itself properly.

Thanks for the great summary and I also have written several articles at my blog on Google Wave... I am a supporter....... I am hopeful Google will truly take this application to the level that it deserves!


over 8 years ago



When I first heard about Wave I was very excited for the possibilities it seemed to hold.  The reality is currently somewhat different: for all the reasons explained above and also because I don't think they quite know what it will be when it grows up yet.  Flexibility and a brand new set of concepts add lots of possibilities but also make it hard to define and explain a new technology.  

That's usually the trait of game changers early on, but also adds a huge barrier to large scale adoption - especially with the added challenge of a (currently) flaky technical implementation.

2010 .. probably not.  2011 .. maybe so: particularly if it does turn into an easier to understand and navigate seamless unified U/I (possibly on Chrome OS/tablet etc ;-) ).

Just my 2c of course! :-)

over 8 years ago



This is a good suggestion, however, I don't believe this is enough to make Wave the game changer we all thought it would be.
I check my Gmail regularly, but I haven't gotten into the habit of checking Wave as frequently.
Even some of the people that I sent invites to hardly bother to reply when I ask them what they think of wave so far and how they are applying it.

over 8 years ago


Tawheed Kader

Over at Ask My BrainTrust (, we've been thinking hard about how to solve the group collaboration/communication over e-mail problem. We're here to help people stop wasting time over e-mail by providing a better alternative for online collaboration.

We're excited to see Google is looking to solve the problem as well, if anything, the underlying technology of Wave will be extremely useful.

If you are struggling with group collaboration today, I urge you to check our product out.

over 8 years ago


James Purser

To a certain extent I think people are confusing Wave with Google Wave, taking their experiences with the Google Wave interface ("clunky", "lacking features", "web based") and extending that to all things Wave.

This is understandable really because Googles Wave is currently the only implementation available. However future wave products and services from outside the Google space will provide a much better look at how Wave will change the way we work.

As an example, currently the Google Wave service is web based only. Which means you need to login to the site and check for any new waves or replies to current waves. New Wave services will offer both "native" wave clients (similar to your current email clients, or even replacing them), as well as cut down notifiers.

Future Wave services (especially those hosted within organisations) will have much tighter integration  with current facilities. Hooking wave into your organisations Intranet will create a collaboration space which is much more real time than currently exists. It will also bring Waves' accountability features (delta playback) to the game.

All in all, I think we need to stop talking about Google Wave as the be all and end all of Wave development. It's a good first implementation, and is very quickly discovering the issues that we will need to face, but it's not the end of the game.

over 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi James

That's a really interesting comment and spot on - as I outlined in the blog, the commercial potential of Wave is yet to be realised. Google took the step to make this open source and collaborative in the hope that the dev community would get stuck in and evolve the core proposition.

It will be interesting to see how non-web based verions emerge as I can see the benefit of having your own application within your firewall, integrated with other IT systems such as Intranet and email.



over 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Andy or is it Laura???

Your log-in links direct to Show Document which leads me to believe you work for or are affiliated to them, hence the plug and why you would personally use it.....

However, not heard of this solution before so will take a peek.


over 8 years ago


David Crane

I’m a big fan of Google Wave, largely because we’ve had a specific purpose to put it to (the Copenhagen debates mentioned in the article).  We came up with the idea before thinking about using Wave but in retrospect I can’t imagine what we would have done without it.

The real-time nature of the discussion was really useful in creating a buzz around the project, which of course led to more people getting involved.  Though the big advantage was the ease in which people could collaborate on their arguments.  Having a load of people try to edit a single point at the same time would have been chaos without Wave.  The fact they could made the end product a lot stronger.

As for general use, I think Wave is the best tool for any many-to-many communication that requires some kind of consensus to be formed.  And you know what, it turns out there’s quite a lot of those.  Yes, there are bugs and it can be slow and everyone you want to communicate with needs to be on it and some kind of new message alert would be very useful.  But all these things are fixable and when they are we’ll be left with a tool we’ll ultimately find indispensable. 

over 8 years ago


Jeffrey Salazar

I've been using Wave for some time now and I think that I am disillusioned at this point. The fundamental technology we should be talking about is XMPP (Google Wave uses this - but only seems to do so in a limited way). XMPP is the foundation for a truly open collaborative infrastructure. With the exception of the real-time character bouncing, which in practice is not a useful feature, XMPP and the XEP packages built on top of it have the richness to enable everything that Google Wave promises.

Whether open source or not, Google is arrogantly choosing to redefine how we collaborate, using protocols they conceived in the vacuum of a walkabout, and apparently hoping we will adopt GWT as our framework for application development.  This is a case of Google taking the stuff they have, trying to create a mashup of it, and then hyping their way around all the holes in the story. The correct way for the future of onlin collaboration to evolve is in a manner that would involve the collaboratione of the industry as a whole - not singularly in the hands of Google. That way the best ideas would come to the front, and the bad ones would fall away. Google Wave has too many bad ideas at this point - they sound great, but don't work in reality.

over 8 years ago


James Purser

Jeffrey, Just to clarify a couple of points: XMPP: Wave uses XMPP as the communication protocol between Wave servers. It's the backbone upon which federation is built. Funnily enough, Wave is still evolving and Googles own Wave offering while being the first "Proof of Concept" (please note that). It's certainly not going to be the last or in fact the best. "Google Wave has too many bad ideas at this point - they sound great, but don't work in reality." I'd put it to you that Wave hasn't hit "reality" yet. Googles wave service is still in limited distribution and the wider Wave world is still very much in its infancy.

over 8 years ago



i am 100% convinced that a person who don't keep an open eye on  these changes and inovations will not manage to sustain his web presense

over 8 years ago



I think what it needs to become the ultimate final product is a better ideas/suggestions page that is constantly being viewed and updated by the Google Wave product managers/developers because there are so many crucial ideas on that have not been answered or checked for months that will make the difference from having Google Wave when it comes out in its final form, be the email-killer we are all hoping for, or the forgotten, forever in-development, prototype.

over 8 years ago

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