Getting Started with Google Wave – An Early Look

A lot of fuss has been made about the fact that email was originally designed 40 year ago, that it no longer works in our fast paced world, and that we need a change. It’s funny — go back just a couple hundred years ago and most people would have considered a 40 year old technology to be very modern. But the twentieth century obliterated that mentality.

And now, here we are. Yes, sometimes communication is hard. Sometimes it is scattered. And sometimes it’s easier to use a tool other than email. Now Google is doing their best to fix the problem and Google Wave is their attempt to do just that. But can it change the way we communicate online?

Only time will tell, but for now we can look at the application itself and see what it’s made of.

What is Google Wave?

Well, let’s start by taking a look at what Wave is:

  • It is (like) an email client.
  • It can be used as a wiki.
  • It is an instant messaging client.
  • It can be used as a file sharing tool.
  • It’s a web application.
  • It’s open — wide open.

If Wave is going to change the ‘game’, then it’s likely that the last bullet point will make the difference. Like Twitter, if Wave gains traction, developers from around the globe will hook into the service and the resulting ecosystem has the potential for diversity. But, as I mentioned above, only time will tell if that happens.

There were many who claimed Twitter wouldn’t go anywhere and we’ve seen how that turned out. But for every Twitter there are a dozen similar services laying facedown in a ditch somewhere in Silicon Valley.

In the world of web apps, ”If you build it, they will come” simply isn’t always how things work out.

But I digress. Okay, here’s what Wave is not:

  • It isn’t Twitter — yet.
  • It isn’t your blog (unless your happy with the Blogger look).
  • And despite reports to the contrary, it won’t make your coffee in the morning. Sad, I know.

The truth is, we don’t yet know just what Wave will end up replacing, if anything.


Some of the jargon can be confusing.

Some of the jargon can be confusing.

A topic that also needs to be discussed is the naming conventions used. It can become confusing to discuss the application with all the different terms that are thrown around. Some of the concepts in Wave are similar to Gmail or other email clients, but some are not.

Here’s a short list to add some clarity:

  • Wave – the application itself (uppercase).
  • wave – a conversation, chat, message, gallery, map … whatever you put in to Wave to share with others is in a wave (lowercase).
  • Blips – separate entries in a wave.
  • Panels – the main compenents of the application.
  • Tags – just like they sound, but are functionally the same as Gmail labels.
  • Invite – actually, Wave calls these nominations as well and they are trickling out at this point. Patience is required if you’re waiting.

Getting Started

Once you’ve been blessed with an invite and log in, it can be a bit confusing what to do next. Personally, when I try a new app or service for the first time, the very first thing I do is check out the settings or preferences. In Wave, there is no Settings option in the upper right hand corner like every other Google service out there.

All the Settings are contained in a wave.

All the Settings are contained in a wave, not in the usual location.

And that’s when I realized that Wave is really quite different — it is a whole new approach for Google.

There is good news — once you get your invite, Google fills your Wave inbox with a few waves that will help you get acclimated with the application. The best way to familiarize yourself with the app is to read through (and watch) all of the intro waves. Overall, I think Google did a good job to get people started with the application, supplying waves that illustrate how the app works.

One of those waves is the Settings wave. It’s labelled ”Under Construction” at this point, but you get the idea where the Wave team was going with this. All content within Wave is contained in a wave, whether it’s your settings, your extensions or all your communication with others.

The only items not in a wave are your contacts. And on that subject, one other thing to do immediately is use your invites. You’ll want to make sure that Contacts panel isn’t empty. Since there are only so many invites issued right now, it can be hard to try the application out when you have no one to talk to.

And once you’ve invited some colleagues, it takes a while for the invites to get to them.

The Interface

The interface is broken down into 4 main panels – Navigation, Contacts, Search and the Wave Panel.

The four components of Wave.

The four components of Wave.

Each of these can be minimized to the top of the screen, giving you a completely blank canvas for a new wave.

A clean canvas to work with.

A clean canvas to work with.

Once you have your various panels minimized, you have two options: 1) you can maximize them once again to the default position as seen in the first image above, or 2) you can click the arrow to temporarily drop them down over the window canvas (and whatever panel you may have maximized).

Keep your panels at the top while still viewing their contents.

Keep your panels at the top while still viewing their contents.

The entire approach they’ve taken is unique and took a little getting used to. But you can see how it would be helpful to focus in on a ‘conversation’ or a ‘document’.

Navigation Panel

Similar to Gmail.

Similar to Gmail.

The panel that gives most of the functionality is the Navigation panel. With it you can open and close the Search panel and control what the search panel is displaying. Like Gmail, the sidebar navigation items are really just searches and everything is labelled or tagged. That brings us to your organizational hierarchy.

Again, like Gmail, you can tag or label all of your waves with multiple values. You can then search for your tags and save your searches. This is exactly how labels work in Gmail, so Gmail users should have no trouble adjusting here.

However, unlike most other Google apps, Wave also allows you to create folders. You can even create sub-folders. As well,you can add colors to a folder, same as a saved search.

But they do differ in how they are displayed in the Search panel — waves displayed in a saved search will display the saved search name and color while waves moved to a folder will not.

The addition of folders, along with tags, allows you to structure Wave is a manner that suits you. Many people still prefer the folder approach over tagging and searching, so it’s nice to see that Wave offers you both options.

Search Panel

After using the application for a time, it becomes clear that the intended usage of this application is to extensively work from the search panel. Ever since Google expanded beyond merely a web search engine, this is how they have built their various services, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

And once you get in the habit, searching is a fast and easy way to get what you’re looking for.

Wave Panel

And finally, we have the wave panel, where you’ll do whatever it is you’ll do in the application. This is where you’ll carry on conversations, share documents, take meeting notes, create image galleries … you get the point.

Several aspects of the Wave panel are also unique as they move away from traditional UI approaches. Or perhaps expand on. The Playback feature is interesting, and from my usage, will be helpful when joining a larger wave later in the timeline.

Another piece of UI that caught my attention was the scrollbar. It can be clicked and dragged like any other scroll bar in an application. Or you can simply click on the arrows at either end to move a specified length — somewhat like a page up or down.

There are a few items that take some getting used to.

There are a few items that take some getting used to.

The last item worth mentioning is the wave tool bar. It contains all the items you can perform on a wave, such as moving waves to a folder, deleting a wave, replying to the wave, and marking as read or unread. Oddly enough, the options to tag a wave or attach a file are at the bottom of the Wave panel.

Overall, the Wave panel is similar to Gmail’s compose interface or the toolbar of Google Docs. If you’re familiar with Google’s applications, it will not take you long to get comfortable with Wave.

First Impressions

Overall, Wave seems like a perfectly good tool. The speed was fine and for the most part, my experience has been bug free. Keep in mind that for now, there are very few people using the application, but if anyone seems to get scaling right, it’s Google.

At this point, support for Safari seems behind Firefox and Chrome. There’s not a big difference, but I was not able to drag and drop waves into folders. Firefox, no problem. These are negligible issues that will most likely be addressed quickly.

Apart from that, there were some other signs that show this is a preview, not an app ready for public consumption. For example, the help documentation is not completely ready. Clicking one of the links in the help menu brought me here:

Still working out the kinks.

Some of the help is … less than helpful.

Google is still working out the kinks, but with a fairly stable first release, the overall performance of the application shows it has promise. The only question that remains is whether it will match the hype.

Where Now?

If you’ve been blessed with an invite — and have actually received it — then invite some more people and spend some time getting used to it. For now, reserve judgement about the value of the app — it would be premature to render at this point. It’s going to take time and use to discover how good this software is.

It makes sense to me that Google has taken this on — creating a central hub for all communication and making sure the data required sits on Google servers fits right in with their track record. I’m sure there are some privacy advocates out there right now who are shaking their heads and wondering why so many people drink from the Google fountain of Kool-Aid.

But if the application can do what is was built to do — improve communication — then the users will come in droves, regardless of any privacy concerns.

More Invites

And another congratulations is in order for @travesse, who was the recipient of yesterday’s invite. I’ll be giving out another one later today — leave a comment below and mention what you think of the privacy aspects of Google Wave for a chance to win. And thanks to everyone for reading this site — your support means a lot.


Add Yours
  • I myself have google wave but no-one to wave at as i never received invites which is kinda weird so i guess the first impressions from me will come when i manage to get an invie for my wife. As for privacy I do tend to trust google, even with gmail holding so much information i think they are more trustworthy than say yahoo or microsoft. just my 2ts cens.

    • Are you sure? There should be a wave in your All list that has your 8 invites.

    • Perhaps Glenn, you received your invite from a friend rather than direct from Google. If so, if everyone with an invite sends out 8 invites, and everyone of those sends out 8 invites, and everyone of those sends out 8 invites … within a few hours everyone on the planet would have received an invite.

      Re: privacy. I would like to see if an originator of a wave to have special rights – for example, where the wave could be embedded, or removal of a participant, but as others have said, Google already have lots of info on you, and anything in an email or IM could go astray anyway, so unless the message is enciphered, you shouldn’t include any sensitive information in any communication

    • Hi Paul! I’m Dr.Kausik Basu from India.My address is [email protected]
      You can wave me if you want to.Actually ONLY people invited to Gwave by the Google team directly can invite other folks.Second hand invitees like myself cannot.Cheers!

  • I think the need for privacy is becoming less and less necessary with the variety of programs out there. Google Wave certainly doesn’t need to replace every other service which consumers use, and as such, privacy, servers, advertisements, etc, can all become secondary to the service.

    When Gmail raised eyebrows with its targeted advertisements, there where alternatives for those who did not want to submit to these “breaches” of their privacy. With Google Wave, users simply have to know what they are getting in to and choose whether or not they can subscribe to this business model.

  • Thanks for that detailed introduction Chris, it looks really exciting! Regarding the privacy issue. I think it will have it’s up and downs like Twitter does or did. Being able to block certain waves (hopefully I’m speaking the in the write terminology!) from certain people is what needed or maybe already there. Being able to set up ‘wave groups’ (?) to block certain info’ from certain people.

  • As a ‘workstation’ and substitute for the email, the security issue should be redrawn. Google’s servers can handle such a load of applications and information despite the leakage occurred with the password ‘private emails regarding the service.

    It is missing that you learn. We always start at the bottom so we can reach the top.

    Google Wave begins to grow timidly. Hence the question to send invitations to testers, so that they point improvements – including the area of security – before opening the Wave to the public.

    In my view this new service by Google will be the replacement after a certain time email.

  • Privacy? What privacy? This is Skynet we are talking about here. You are naive if you don’t think that Google already knows everything there is to know about you. That being said… I would love an invite so I can share even more of my live with Google.

  • One of the privacy concerns is related to the embedding feature: it is not easy for a user to track where exactly on the web a wave has been embedded (by the other participants) and how public that place is.

    • Just as you can not be sure if someone redirect a personal email from you to all his friends.

      • Well, not exactly.
        Email is similar to snail mail – each letter has an author so you think twice (or ask) before forwarding anything.
        But a wave is like a wiki page, it’s ‘owned’ by a group of people so each of the contributors will be more inclined to ‘forward’ the wave by embedding it in a site/blog/etc.

  • I think no one who has already a Google-Account can say something about privacy in Google Wave. It will be the same…
    Thats my opinion and because I also have a Google-Account I also want to have Wave without looking on privacy 😀

  • Very nice article… I cant wait any longer for trying it my own 😀

    I have no more concerns about privacy because a big part of wave is open source and I guess that in a few years there will be many wave providers like there are many email providers now (hotmail, gmail, gmx and so on) and google wont be a monopoly. Everyone will be able to decide for a provider he trusts. There will be no difference about privacy between wave and email.

  • I think that privacy issues will be important in enterprise sector a lot if companies will want to use GWave as a tool for internal communication. But, as it goes with GMail, crowd still believe Google and use their services a lot — so, I think, GWave would take own piece of internet. Paranoid ones, interested in GWave-like experience, would use private versions of such tools on their own servers that, I believe, will appear quickly. Makes sense?

  • I’m agree with Les James….
    Unfortunaly, I don’t have wave account.

  • Yes, with the internet the way it is today, privacy is hard to come by. I think any “privacy” that google gives us is a false sense of security, for even if there is advertisement on the page, then google is technically still reading your personal info. It’s a fact that we are going to have to learn to live with unfortunately. The only real privacy is face to face interaction. It doesn’t bother me too much, and I would still love a Wave invite 😉

  • Dear Chris, nice review.

    As a gmail user I do not see any privacy issues that haven’t been there before. My whole chat history and every single email from every account I own can be found in my gmail inbox. I guess that’s the price I have to pay for a very good (free!) product that I use daily.

    Within wave, however, I would like to be able to exclude people from parts of waves (I think I’ve read that it is possible to exclude people from a wave as a whole) so as to have one big wave with several people added but certain more private parts that only I and trusted friends can access.

  • The main concern of privacy with Wave is to be able to discern when to restrict viewers or make another wave, because you can always invite some one else you didn’t think of first and show whats not supossed to be seen.

    Despite of that fact is too early to see any other privacy issue.

    Hope to get that invite to learn more about it. Sorry for my bad english!

  • I would love have an invite!!!

    I think privacy is something that you like think that exist, but really it won’t!!! The privacy in computers only will exist if you computer is turn off, inside a box, under an ocean with two shark’s under it :)

    Other way always will be away to “open” your privacy :)

  • This is a nice introduction to Google Wave.

    As for the privacy, I believe it shouldn’t be much of a problem. Google has been a trusted search engine, e-mail provider, shopping center, etc. for many years. Accounts made through Google often hold very private information. It is an anomaly that people are only thinking about these problems now.

    In fact, this debate on privacy should have occurred with much more fervor years ago. At the point where Google is already omniscient and has never breached the privacy of its users, it can clearly be trusted. Thus, as you have stated, people will use this application even through the criticisms.

  • I’m not sure that this product really could replace E-Mails and IM-clients, but I do believe that this is a excellent way of relaying the possibility of collaborative work on documents to the every-day user.

    On the privacy issue, I’m sure that the same discussion will pop up just as it did with Gmail, using Chrome etc. Still, since the technology is an improvement of communicating compared to sending E-Mails back and forth, I’m pretty sure that won’t stop people (and lots of ’em 😀 ) from using it.

    Excellent introduction, by the way :-) I would also be really happy to recieve an invite!

  • Privacy? Well if you’re worried about something getting out, you really shouldn’t be sending it over a “free” service. Use discretion when sending waves/emails/IM’s. If its sensitive information, don’t send it. Problem solved.

    Love the review guys, keep it up!

  • Google is like Microsoft 10-15 years ago, everybody likes the ease of use, preaty pictures, so they have no problem with privacy. I know it is bad to but all eggs in tithe same busket, but reliebity and accessabilty overweight all privacy concern, plus Google knows almost every thing about everyone somewhat active online. What sets google appart from Microsoft is that you do have alternative, do not like it – use MSN or something else.
    I like it I would like to use it.

  • as long as google never sells my information to telemarketers or spammers, i’m alright with them knowing a thing or two about me. although, maybe they’re trying to lull us to sleep with their “do no evil” mantra.

  • I cannot wait to get on the Google Wave bandwagon. My creative team uses a project management system that could use an update. I cannot wait to get us rocking (and communicating) with Wave.

  • This reminds me a little bit of the 37signals apps Backpack and Basecamp.

  • I’d really, really like to know how, or if, Wave will work together with something like Google Gears to allow off-line access to a wave.

    In the same vein, I’d like to know how easy, or difficult, it might be to archive one or more waves, or parts of a wave (perhaps via some sort of Export function) for storage in a local repository. This last question is motivated by distrust of a single point-of-failure, even one as reliable as Google, as well as my organisational (and legal) obligations for data retention and data integrity.

    • For sure, Wave does work with Gears. Actually, some of its main features only work with Gears. The drag and drop of waves on a folder for example — it only works if your browser has Gears installed.

  • *Note: don’t consider me for an invite–I already have wave 😉

    I really do wish that they would either allow for the invites to actually *get invited* to Wave or that they had released to fewer people, and then allowed for the invites to work there. Wave is quite lonely with zero contacts… especially since I know I invited 8 people within 10 minutes of setting up my account…

    I look forward to seeing what they come up with, and getting to experiment with it more myself once I get some [sniff] friends…

  • When it comes to privacy, it’s hard to imagine how Google could be any more tangled up in every facet of electronic information… that being the case, if Google isn’t trustworthy, we’re already screwed, so why not benefit from a new and improved means of communication while we’re at it ; )

    To be serious, I think a company like Google realizes that a LOT of it’s success depends upon its reputation, and that if it were abusing it’s access to private information, word would get out and they’d be hurt in a big way. For the time being, it seems it’s in Google’s own best interest to protect and respect our online privacy. Not saying that can’t change under some extreme unforeseen circumstance, but until then, I’m fine with it…

  • Great overview thanks!

    As for privacy it is pretty scary at how much Google could know about us all… They have all our contacts and personal emails, our personal information, where we live and where we go based on what we search in maps, what we are interested in based on what we search for… the list goes on.

    But overall I do trust Google, and with so much trust that’s why they’ve been so incredibly successful I believe.

  • Now I haven’t read the comments fully so if this has already been covered forgive me… The idea with wave is that it is a protocol and not just a web app… In terms of privacy when it is released you are supposed to be able to have your own server if you choose. If that is the case then you should see all sorts of front ends pop up for wave, maybe even private servers for corporate environments. Privacy will become less of a concern once people have the ability to control their environment. I am also sure that some of the issues expressed like no control on embedding will be addressed as this starts to get main stream.

  • comment above ^^^^^ Last name is Gensel not Gense… Sorry bout that

  • Privacy depends from the users, from what he choses to put online. But… this is for the privacy of the user himself, maybe not for his entourage… Let’s see how Wave will make it (I hope better than FaceBook!)

  • The good think is that even though not all the invites have gone through, it’s a good chance to meet new people. I’m finding it painfully so far but I can definitely see it’s potential and I’m having a lot of fun with the extensions.

    If you know anyone that wants a Google Wave invite tell them to check out the 6rounds competition as they are giving away 6 invites:

  • I’m happy to say I use Google for every part of communication for my freelance business. Google Voice, Gmail, Docs. I have no problems with privacy as long as they make a good product that I trust.

  • I’m actually having problems understanding what Google Wave is. I am a musician in a duo, where me and the other guy are in different parts of the world. I’ve been looking for a way to have an internal communication with him, where we can IM, post articles and send mp3’s to eachother.

    Will Google Wave let me do this?

  • Thanks for this article. Now I know better than to stare at my Wave panel wondering “Now what?”

  • Privacy will always be a sticky issue, but if you are prepared to use the services put out there by a corporation such as Google then you also have to trust in their integrity and honesty and protection of data. I believe of all the organisations to put your trust into then Google wont go too far wrong (I hope).

    My twitter address is @integralist so if I am lucky enough to get an invite then please let me know there as well as emailing me please :)

  • I’m excited about Wave. I’m usually an early adopter and am online a lot.
    The privacy part is a non-issue for me. I do trust Google more than some other providers, say Yahoo, but I also know that nothing on the web ever dies so I don’t put any info out there that really requires a high level of privacy.

  • actually I don’t worry about privacy on the Internet. all the things that I publish or say are also things that I would most willingly be shouting on the open street, so why should I worry? thanks for a great writing! I really enjoy reading it! :)

  • As always, another sound review. I hope to get a chance to try Wave sometime soon, but don’t mind waiting patiently :)

  • I’m sorry Glenn! I called you Paul! And i DO NOT know why! The rest of my reply needs no alteration.

  • Google Wave is gonna be hot, that’s for sure. Everywhere i work i got my gmail on. Normally im not that keen on giving mail a chance to distract me from my work, but Google just got it right. Im really looking forward to their ‘next step’.

    About their Privacy Aspects… I dont think we should make such a big deal about it. All the data is gonna be transfered and stored somewhere so why make such a big fuzz out of it. Plus i dont have any big secrets. Well, ofcourse there’s the German Midget i killed but hell, i dont mail or post about that!

    With kind regards from Holland,


  • Since I try Google Waves it is totally change my lifestyle. So beautiful,bright idea,leading technology…
    Google Wave makes world closer and feels hard work and warm heart of all members.
    Thanks again.

  • awesome at every corner

  • reinvent everyday with Google