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Five Reasons to Be Terrified of Google Wave

Google Wave, announced today at Google's I/O Developer conference in San Francisco, is a hybridized email system that will fundamentally change the way we think about electronic messaging. This is foreboding for at least five reasons. (Below, a wave in action.)


1) Participating in a Wave is a little like an email chain, and a little like instant messaging; you can embed documents, Google Web Elements, photos and other multimedia, and the whole bailywick is presented as one stream of conversation. People can jump in or jump out at any time, and they can track back to see how a conversation got started. 

The advantage, Google says, is "rich formatting." But this "formatting" is also a lot like instant message formatting. We all know what that'll mean: short, declarative sentences; loss of all punctuation, greetings, and email signatures (with important info like phone numbers); and conversations that are much longer than they should be. Dislike long billowy emails? You'll despise the bizarre, choppy prolixity of long waves.

2) "With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time." That's what Google says. Am I the only one who writes an email, then revises it for tone and clarity? It's creepy enough that other people know when I'm typing on Gtalk. Now they can see what I'm thinking as I try out sentences?

3) Every college student is familiar with the next liability. Email chains—the closest thing to waves at this point—are all fun and games until someone CC's the wrong person, like a parent, relative, boss or overly-sensitive co-worker. "Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process," Google says. That'll make keeping track of participants a lot harder. Subtract the aforementioned opportunities to self-edit, and you have a social trainwreck ready and waiting.

Picture 1

4) Google Wave, like all fun new toys on the Web these days, has its own API, aspiring to be a platform as well as a tool. It has "robots" that enable live functions like searching, linking and translation, and a wave can be embedded in a site to make things more "collaborative," according to Google.

Leaving aside spam for a second—which I realize is no trifle—what is it with platforms? How many of these things can we have before we all join hands across America? Any company with moderately ambitious developers is already trying to handle smartphone apps, Facebook's API, Twitter, widgets, and who knows how many other endeavors. Do we really need to throw another silo of communication on the pile?

5) The worst thing about Wave: I'm going to try it anyway. Google's apps are roundly excellent, with the exception of maybe Picasa, which is shamed by Flickr. Why? I'm curious how Wave survived amidst a new, post-recession Google that cuts funding for pie-in-the-sky projects; obviously, Google really believes in Wave, and the search engine giant is rarely wrong about these things.

When Wave goes live "later this year," you can be the first to know—and resent—by signing up here.

Related: Google I/O: The Next Android OS—Google Donut, Looks Tasty

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  • Scott Lovingood

    While any technology will have its ups and downs, the only way to see what will really happen is to release it into the wild.

    I think the idea of being able to collaborate in real time in a much easier format will make it much more useful. Decentralized outsourced operations often lack this type of functionality. The only problem I see is that Google often designs for the consumer who may not see the value in this type of tool.

    Enterprise level security would make this a huge hit and give them some nice inroads to businesses, colleges, home school students, etc. It has a lot of potential but only time will tell if they execute it well.

    Scott Lovingood
    Creating Wealth

  • Steve Wax

    Love the headline, I am also concerned about the death of punctuation, and there ought to be a federal regulation restricting comment length, given Gregg DesElms post above.

  • Gregg L. DesElms

    Thinking of Wave in terms of "replacing" such as GMAIL (or even email, itself) is just silly. Not every Internet communication needs to be (or even should be) as would be in Wave. Traditional email, at the very least, should (and likely will) never go away. Of this, I think there should be little fear or doubt.

    Now, that doesn't mean there won't be a place -- and a potent one, indeed -- in our lives for such as Wave and its ineluctable variants. It, too, will be useful, under the right circumstances. In fact, from my admittedly only-cursory analysis of it to date, I'm thinking that what actually MAY be "replaced" by Wave, as a practical matter, is traditional "chat," as we now know it (though traditional chat, mark my words, will continue to be around for years and years, too, no matter how good Wave ultimately gets).

    Regardless, one thing about which we should all be clear in our minds is that we're not talking about the mere replacing of anything, here. Wave, for better or worse, seems very nearly of the nature of paradigm shift... and far be it from me to suggest that that's, necessarily, a bad thing, here.

    It does, however, come with pitfalls about which we should all be watchful, if not actually downright concerned. For example, though it's now coming out in articles (and/or rebuttals to such as I am posting here) that it's likely to be user-configurable, initial writings about Wave touted the ability (and represented it as essential to Wave's very way of operating) of all persons in a "wave" (or a thread) to be able to see, in real time, all others' keystrokes, as they type.

    Let me repeat the salient words of that, here: AS. THEY. TYPE.

    Think about that, please, for just a moment. It's a far larger problem than, perhaps, it initially seems. Like how sausage is made (or, as some joke, like how laws are passed), some things in life may better be left something of a mystery to those who ultimately consume (or are regulated by) them; and, most importantly, solely at the creator's option.

    The ultimate impact and meaning to the reader of anything written would be inordinately influenced by said reader's having been a witness to its creation. If one is a thoughtful writer who doesn't just blurt out every wayward thing which flits through one's brain, then one is going to pause to think while one types, and back-up and delete and re-type, and whatever else behind-the-scenes activity goes into what ends-up being the finished written product. If the reader were able to witness what the writer merely paused before writing; or actually did write, but then thought better of and either removed or changed to something else, then the bell of what the reader saw along the way cannot be un-rung; and the reader's ultimate interpretation and understanding of the final written result will be indelibly affected in ways (even if not immediately obvious) more likely than not to be inherently bad for all concerned.

    Now, if it's true, as some who challenge such as my assertions, here, are now saying, that the ability of others to view one's keystrokes as one makes them is (or at least will be) user-configurable in the version of Wave which is finally released to the end-user wild, then my concern, at least on this particular privacy-related point, is happily ameliorated.

    However, of larger philosophical concern to me is that the creators of Wave apparently believed, even if only briefly, that something as basic as this issue would not be important. What, then (if anything), does that mean we should also be wary of in the realm of personal privacy protections, just generally, for users of this new and groundbreaking product? For what else should we be watching which may, ultimately, negatively impact us because of fundamental, and at least initially seemingly harmless, privacy encroachments...

    ...encroachments which may not even be recognizable as encroachments to Wave's creators because, perhaps, of their nationality and upbringing (nothing negative, mind you, intended by that wording, I assure).

    One potentially troubling impact (at least from the standpoint of Americans, in my opinion) of globalization (which, incidentaly, I'm not fundamentally against, despite how what I'm about to write may make it seem) is how the sensibilities of those non-Americans who create things which all others on the planet end-up using can unintentionally contravene that which Americans hold perhaps nearer and dearer to their hearts than do non-American others. Those who grew up and still live in countries where such things as privacy and freedom of speech are not as absolute and paramount as in the US may or may not necessarily value such rights to the same degree as do Americans; and it sometimes shows in their work.

    It has not escaped my notice that the two brothers -- brilliant though they are -- who created and continue to develop Wave were neither born and raised in, nor now live in, the US... and so I fear (and I may be completely wrong about this, I realize... but absent, at this point, any reason not to, I am nevertheless fearing that they) may not place as much of a premium on the notion of absolute privacy (if desired by the end-user of Wave) as do Americans.

    Or, who knows, maybe they do. I don't know them, and it's unfair of me to presume, I suppose (or even to suppose, I presume). One way or the other, though, it should be at least a concern to all that the default behavior of Wave seems so inherently and joltingly privacy-denuding.

    So, then, again, begged is the question: Of what else (if anything), in Wave, should we who hold inviolate our privacy be wary?

    To appeal to (at least thinking) Americans, the makers of Wave need to take steps to ensure that if the end-user wants to protect his/her absolute privacy while using this admittedly exciting and paradigm-shifting new product, it can, via easy configuration settings, be satisfactorily and incontrovertibly achieved at all possible levels, and in all possible ways. Moreover, as it is developed, the makers of Wave might need to realize that they may, because of their nationality and upbringing, not necessarily even recognize what all of those levels and ways might be; and the Americans (or even the non-Americans who at least fully grasp the American viewpoint regarding all this) who work on the development of Wave should ensure that no privacy holes such as I'm discussing here remain anywhere in it when it's finally and fully released into the end-user wild.

    Or so it is my opinion... my two cents worth, as it were...

    ...which my ex-wife, for example, among others, has been known to quickly attest tends to be about all it's usually worth.

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California

  • Justin Benson

    In general I think this article is effective in that it compares Wave to a corporate email environment. In that sense it's legitimate. What Wave though reminds me of is the Facebook generation. I know people at work who got frustrated two or three years back because their children no longer responded to their emails. The kids said "Dad, I don't use email anymore - if people need me they text me or hit my Facebook page"

    So Wave is more of a threat to Facebook or Twitter than email in my mind. In that world too people are now already used to having their intimate thoughts and experiences shared with friends and not so close friends so the above concerns will be less of an issue. However, in the compliance/sue crazy corporate world Wave will be more of the pebble than Hawaiian kind.

  • Fernando Parra

    I'm sorry to disagree with you. I think you always have the choice to whom you communicate to. If your friends are always into pointless E-mail chains, and have no interest in preserving the medium, It's not Google's fault.

  • Duarte Molha

    I am sorry chris ... but I could not disagree more with your article!!! Did you even see the demo???!!! How can you be shown such a groundbreaking new technology and completely miss its potential... And in regards to you 2nd point (really makes me wonder if you did see the demo) They clearly explain there will be a mode where you can edit your post in a non-im mode and only post it whenever you feel that you and happy with it. In regards to your 3rd point, this is still a early version and if you pay more attention to the video they also explain they are going to implement features where the original wave creator can choose to control who can participate in the wave and limit many of the features you are complaining about. I am not a google fanboy but when I see a great product I like to acknowledge it! Maybe you should keep you mind open to the potentialities being shown here. For me ... I cannot wait to get my hands on a wave account!

  • Alexis Kefalas

    hey Chris?

    Go watch the video, and then re-write this article...

    ITS CRAP...

  • Sandra Jones

    2) Did you even watch the demo? Hello? There is a checkbox to not let people see what you are typing.

  • Kendall Werts

    It sounds like some stuff was just made up to sound controversial so that people will read the article. These points are ridiculous
    1) is choice. If one chooses to have a business tone, then nothing is different just like in emails and telephone conversations and everything else
    2) is an option that can be turn on or off.
    3) is a problem that is even stated in the article that we already have and therefore is not connected to google wave in anyway
    4) is called innovation. Yes. We will continue to create new and better forms of communication, because that is what we do. We can't be satisfied with what we have. We have to push further. Only time will tell if this form is better or not.
    5) I can't believe such a damning article was written without having used the product.

  • Amanda Hugginkis

    Foremost (in regards to #4) this isn't a new API. This is all based off of the XMPP protocol (i.e. Jabber) which in turn is what Gtalk is already using. Waves is just one of the few implementations of XMPP that really pushes to see how much can be done with this awesome protocol.

    Secondly, this is not just a Google technology. Google has revealed that they will make this public (not sure about the license) and that people can deploy their own Wave servers, which can then interact with each other in the same way that email, IRC, XMPP, IAX2 and any other decentralized communication protocol worth keeping around can do.

  • Travis St.Denis

    you are a tech writer? did you watch the demo and check into your fear mongering?

    1) no technology can solve how people will write and the shorthand they use or the bad grammar, spelling and emoticons. why even have it as an expectation. at least having the features allows someone to possibly not revert to poor writing.
    2) if you watched the demo, you would know you can turn off that feature at any post.
    3) again, this is human error, not the technology that is responsible for this. wave allows a lot of option to include and exclude people. again, watch the demo
    4) calling it a 'silo' is beyond erroneous. it's a platform that enables all kinds of interconnectedness between other platforms.
    5) this isn't even a point about being 'terrified of wave', why is it here? so what if google allocates resources to a pie-in-the-sky idea? they are just creating the platform, the 3rd party developers will be the ones to keep it alive.

    how did this article get published?

  • Wogan May

    Just like Google Docs, this'll be a fantastic breakthrough that very few (if any) large scale enterprise customers will use.

    And while I appreciate the real-time advantage, I'm not so sure I'd go for it as a regular communication tool. There's something about Wave that doesn't quite sit right with me.

  • Sharona Meushar

    #2 is optional. at the presentation they said you can turn the live streaming of the conversation off when you don't want people to see your spelling mistakes etc. live.

  • Guillaume Thoreau

    This is a great haedline to draw traffic to Fast Company. But the article is very poorly argumented.
    The only things i found a bit creepy are spellcheck and translation: such efficiency can only be achieved by listening to our conversation on the web to build statistic models of human languages. Google is listening, it's already an AI.

  • Michael Seymour

    Google is looking for the algorhythms for AI, the random interactive sythesis, impressive. Binary code cannot handle AI, There needs to be at a fundamental level at least a third choice. on or off is not enough.

  • Brian Burgess

    Utterly stupid article at Fast Company today. The title was "Five reasons to be terrified about about Google Wave." Yet the author only provided four reasons, none of them actually terrifying. Here's the piece, with my take below the link.

    1)This first complaint has little to do with Google Wave and more to do with the communication skills of the people using the product. Some email chains little better than caveman grunts because of the people who are looped in.

    2) Google has already said that when you need speed, you use this feature, when you need quality and clarity, you can turn it off. Did you read the press release?

    3) Privacy controls are easily implemented. I'm quite confident by the time this launches, Wave will allow lists to be locked, restricted, etc. and it's a simple matter to program the service so that it even double checks your actions by asking, "are you sure you want to include this person in the Wave?" This is something e-mail does NOT do, so instead of a problem, it's actually an improvement.

    4) Perhaps the strongest point in the piece - too bad you raise it in the form of a question and fail to make it really seem "terrifying" as the title suggests.

    5) You're going to try it anyway. Wow. What a lame finish. Remind me what is so "terrifying" about this point?

    OK, let's tally up:

    Title of article: Five Reasons to be Terrified of Google Wave
    Total reasons offered: 4
    Total terrifying reasons: 0

    Please fire yourself. The web doesn't need you polluting it with breathless headlines and poorly supported garbage. Just because the rest of the world is talking about something doesn't mean you should feel compelled to join in too. That's why millions of people have Twitter accounts but far fewer actually use them.

  • Oz Omoluabi

    Looks like a great solution to problem that most of us who collaborate a lot currently face. This article appears to have been written just for the shock value. Change is good embrace it.

  • jeff baker

    #1 The Waves can be condensed or expanded
    #2 can be shut off
    #3 creator of the "Wave" can make it private to only people they invite.
    #4 This all works under HTML5 and programmed in java
    #5 The worst thing is that you made money on writing this article

    @Daniel Bo turn on the labs feature that allows inline images from your picasa account or desktop.

  • jsl4980

    I swear FastCompany has a negativity filter that won't allow any articles to be published unless they're incredibly negative and bash any and all new ideas. How can this publication be so negative about every new and innovative idea and technology?

    We all get it, you're old and out of touch and yearn for the days before computers, televisions, and phones, when you had to walk to school up hill both ways. This publication really needs to get some new writers who understand technology.

  • Derek Martin

    1) You're afraid of short sentences resulting in conversations that are longer than they should be? Plus, you used the word bailywick. And you're spelling e-mail without the hyphen, so it's almost like you've accepted e-mail into your life fully, but then you go and say something about hating the lack of punctuation? I can't take anything you say seriously anymore. Did you watch the demo on a Micfosoft WebTV setup?

    2) You're afraid of live transmission? Do you hate the telephone? Skype? Live TV? Live radio?

    3) You're afraid of CCing the wrong person, but Wave presents no more danger than the Forward button that accompanies every e-mail discussion. Keeping track of participants is actually *easier* in Wave; their photo is right there for you to see!

    4) You're afraid of its API & platformness? If it were proprietary, I could understand that. But it's not. It's open, like e-mail. This will give you freedom of choice as to who your Wave provider is. Google won't own your data. So is it just platforms that you're afraid of? Do you fear Facebook Connect? Open ID? OAuth? No, because those are transparent to you, and you probably don't even know what they are, despite the fact that you use them. You probably don't even realize that you ARE using them. I just used Facebook Connect to post this comment!

    5) You're afraid because it's awesome? We have needed a replacement for e-mail/IM/webmail/e-vites for sooooo long, and now that it's here you title your article to make people fear it, and then you praise it? Please hand in your writer's badge at the front desk.