Wave Is A Tool For Getting Work Done

Together with a friend, I decided to use Google Wave as our project management tool for a small project: A series of mountain bike races we’re organizing. This is the experience we came away with, so far. It’s a review of Google Wave, if you will.

Scope: Organize an event website
Our goal was simply to setup a wave for organizing dates, venues, rules, and prizes for the event. The product of the wave is (by proxy) an event website.

Approach: Lay it out, fill in the blanks
We structured our work with a handful of ‘placeholder’ wavelets for each aspect of the event: Dates and places, Rules, Timekeeping during races, Website, and Invitations. Eventually, everyting would go on the event website. We then proceeded to update each wavelet with a rough draft of ideas and text and, over the course of a few days, refined each wavelet so that in the end, the content was ready to go on the website.

Wave isn’t IM (email isn’t, either)
It quickly became clear that Wave isn’t a tool for chit-chat. As we progressed, we would often get sidetracked into talking about stuff marginally relevant to the work we were doing, updating the wave as if it was an IM conversation. All those little comments are still sitting in the wave, basically just being noisy and annoying (as they would, of course, in a long email exchange, but there they’d at least be out of sight once the next message ticked in).

Wave lacks tools for collaborating on text in a structured way
Sure, you can strikethrough, highlight, and even delete text, a record of the original will still be retained. But there’s no structured way of commenting on and/or approving other users’ changes. The problem is, Wave’s editing tools are dumb. Every time you work on something created by another user, you have at least 5 different approaches to choose from, in order to reach agreement on the final product:

  • Write a separate comment
  • Write a question mid-sentence and highlight it
  • Use the yes/no/maybe gadget to vote between different alternatives
  • Strikethrough the stuff you don’t like, and write your own suggestion immediately next to it
  • Simply edit/delete and replace with your own suggestion

In our case, we found the latter was often the most efficient. But this approach might be harder in corporate environments where people expect a certain courtesy when others want to criticize or edit their work. A gadget or robot that brings Wave closer to Word’s reviewing feature (I know, who really wants it?) will be instrumental here.

Wave is appealing in that it works more or less like a wiki
What we did could basically be achieved with a wiki, only not as elegantly as Wave does it. We didn’t use the more advanced features like maps and poll gadgets, mainly because they distract, take a lot of focus and fill up the workspace. It seems that Wave needs a way to minimize these elements once they’re dealt with.

Collaborating online still falls short of real life (or even the phone)
There are times when you have to refrain from emailing and pick up the phone instead–to clear up misunderstandings or ensure that everyone is on the same page. This is true with Wave as well. Wave is a tool for getting work done–not for brainstorming new ideas, convincing others of your way of seeing things, or clearing up misunderstandings. The most important elements of our little project came together – and the project progressed – when we discussed it face to face or on the phone, not when we were using Wave.


  1. Kim Møller-Elshøj says:

    I’m still sad that Google Wave was closed down… Don’t feel it was ever rreally given that chance it deserved to take off.

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