Google Wave Limitations

Don't get me wrong. I dig(g?) the Wave. I think it's got some great potential to really disrupt things in a much-needed way. But I'm still skeptical. I've tried to figure out what I can about Wave given that I don't even have a sandbox account yet, and now I want to share my thoughts. So here's what I think Wave doesn't do:

Wave Will Replace Blogs
If you're interested in Wave, you've probably already seen the Wave video. One of the examples in the video shows embedding waves as blog posts, so you get real-time comments from visitors. The thing they gloss over in the demo is that, as Wave stands right now, anyone who joins that wave has permissions to edit anything -- the original blog post, or anyone else's comments. It's like making your blog a public wiki instead of a set of authored posts. In the extreme case you've got almighty blog spam potential, but even in the realistic case there's potential for editing other people's comments.

You could technically write a "read-only-enforcy" robot that keeps reverting segments of the wave if anyone else edits them, but, well, that smells funny. I expect that someday Wave will add wavelets with limited editability, but that doesn't solve everything.

One issue that will be addressed as this all evolves is how much are users expected to monitor the development of waves they're subscribed to? Is it as important as responding to a new email? How easy is it to recognize and dismiss minor edits? If I'm still part of a wave is it assumed I endorse it? There's some haziness that the system will have to define for itself as it develops.

Wave Will Replace Facebook
Or Twitter, for that matter. This isn't going to happen, because of one simple but significant feature in Wave: the "unread" feature. Facebook's stream and Twitter's feeds are very much about real-time. You don't comment on old tweets, and Facebook doesn't really make it easy to "catch-up" on old items. There's no indication of what you might have missed between visits, and that changes the medium. Things like Email, Feed Readers -- or Wave, for that matter, make sure to highlight any items that have seen activity. I think that implies a sense of importance to each message, and for me anyway, I feel weird clicking any kind of "clear all" button. What did I just dismiss? Whose question did I just unintentionally ignore? In Wave's case, was the latest edit a change in spelling or an important question that needs addressing? I don't feel that urgency at all with Twitter of Facebook. Interesting how taking away that "unread" feature completely changes the nature of the service.

Anyway, I think that because of the way Wave is organized and its coming from an email background, it won't do well replacing services that are more real-time, if only because they actually mark all those changes and encourage you to review them.

Wave Will Replace the LMS
I won't talk much about this, because I think it's been hit already. Michael Feldstein made some good points (especially the part about how it's silly to put much stock in the death-tolls of the LMS from people who aren't even using them anymore). Dr. Chuck adds some other points about authorization and the inherent de-normalization of waves.

For my part I'll just say I think you could write an LMS on top of Wave, but there'd be some serious robottage going on behind the scenes to make everything play nice, and I think the decentralized nature of Waves make it too disjointed on its own. That said, I think a future-looking LMS could seriously benefit from harnessing waves for things like group projects, peer reviews, or maybe even assessment. That's what I'll be working on -- if Google ever gives me my sandbox account, that is.


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