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What is Google Wave?

Gina Trapani | Feb. 23, 2010
Google Wave is one of the most hyped but least understood services Google has ever launched.

To start a wave, you click on the New Wave button. Enter a title and initial message, and click on Done. You can then add contacts to collaborate on that wave by choosing them from your Contacts list. When you add a contact to a wave, you can give him or her full read-write or read only privileges.

A wave isn't just a single document; it's made up of a collection of messages, called "blips." When you create a new wave, you start by editing its root blip. Anyone else with editing rights can change that blip, or they can add blips below it or inside it.

To reply to a blip, you select it and then press Enter to add a new reply blip directly beneath it. Blips don't have to be appear sequentially, one right after another; you can also embed one blip inside another: If you want to place your reply next to specific word, you select it then click on Reply; your blip will appear inside the parent blip. This way, inline conversations can happen at any point inside a wave to comment on specific bits of content.

The content of a blip isn't limited to text. Using Wave's toolbar, you can also add photos, files, Google Maps, YouTube videos, and Yes/No/Maybe multiple choice questions to a wave. With Google Gears installed in your browser, you can drag and drop images to upload them into a wave.

To see how a wave has changed over time, you can use the playback feature to go back and forward in a revisions timeline. If someone made an edit to the wave that you want to roll back, click on the Restore button on the Playback toolbar. You can organize your waves in private folders or add tags (which everyone can see and search on).

The Bottom Line

I think Google Wave represents an exciting new model for real-time, online collaboration with lots of potential. I could see it being used for a variety of applications, including group chats, collaborative meeting notes, event planning, project management, and collaborative news tracking.

Unfortunately, in its current preview state, it's not quite ready for production use. It's missing important features--such as e-mail notifications and the ability to remove a participant from a wave--and it can be unstable and slow in some browsers. Mac users who want to check it out should try Waveboard, a desktop client that includes Growl notifications and an iPhone application. 


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