"Everything's shiny, Capn'. Not to fret!"
Firefly fans may instantly recognize that quote, but participants of the Google Wave dev preview tend have an almost Pavlovian aversion to the phrase. For them, it's a signal that you've managed to find a bug that's crashed the program, grinding your experiences to an abrupt halt. "We're working hard on three things right now," said Lars, "stability, speed, and there's a stack of usability problems that recent users have uncovered for us." On its September 30th launch, there won't be any surprise features from what we've already seen shown -- "nothing new, but less of the 'shiny,'" he said, referencing its fail whale error screen. Our first ten minutes with the web app were apparently pretty typical for new users, tinkering around with every feature as we write and edit each other's incoherent babble, watching in a stupor as characters materialize on screen in real-time with the other person's typing.
The interface is easy to adjust to, especially for those familiar with Gmail. From start up, you've got your navigation and contacts on the left rail, your inbox in the middle, and your current open waves on the right. Any window can be minimized, and doing so will send it to a tab along the top row adjacent to Wave's logo, and can be fully accessed from there as drop down windows. Honestly, we found this preferable to having the non-wave windows propagate the screen, as it cleared up valuable screen real estate and gave us more room to spread out multiple wave conversations. Unfortunately, its system for organizing multiple open windows was puzzling: with five waves open, four vied for space in the left column while one particularly empty wave hogged the right all to itself. It was pretty illogical, and we've got no idea at this point how to drag them around and fix, but we're willing to go on faith for now that this will be remedied before too long.
One of Google's initiatives to attract business / enterprise customers is the ability to create your own Wave server that doesn't live in the cloud, and as it was explained, any part of a wave that's privy only to people on the enterprise server, including private in-line replies to public threads, will exist only on the local server, while portions shared publicly or with a member outside of the server will co-exist in the cloud.
Other than an ad hoc wave listing extensions, there's no integrated database for developers to show off their wares. To our surprise, though, Lars said the team is toying with the idea of an app store with revenue sharing. He was quick to point out this was just one of many monetization strategies being floated around at this point, but we gotta say, it's definitely an intriguing idea.
The web version's built around the HTML5 standard, and something Lars is excited about is that it's the same code base with only five to ten percent effort to make it work on mobile, by his estimates. A native app has been discussed, and while it would allow access to the camera, address book, and compass (as Latitude has shown, GPS is already web app-friendly), it'd take an "extraordinary amount of work" to build native software vs. just sticking with a web-based solution. We gotta imagine bypassing the app store would be nice at this point, too, but going native is still an option at this point. For the most part, there's expected to be a feature parity between the desktop and mobile versions, with one key exception: editing. It's something that's not quite a part of the HTML5, but the Rasmussens said they work close with the standards body and are hopeful they can fix that.
Put plainly, Wave is a message board in a constant state of self-editing flux. To put it another way, it's a collaborative text editor on steroids -- as our mobile editor Chris Ziegler quipped, "I think Wave's capabilities actually exceed human capacity to interact." There's a lot of great ideas here, many we'd love to see find their way into other Google apps, but we're still trying to figure out just how this will fit into an online world already dominated by numerous social networks, messaging clients, forums, and microblogging services -- something that'll proper render itself more clear as it moves from dev build to public beta. It's not that we don't think Wave will be successful -- and make no mistake, we are enthused -- but calling it "revolutionary" might be setting the bar a bit too high. Those 100,000 spaces opening up September 30th got filled just hours after the I/O conference, so if you signed up any time in the aftermath, you're gonna have to hold off a bit longer. In the meantime, it's probably best to pare down those exorbitant expectations while you wait.