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.
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.