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Google Wave – Social Media Proliferation

October 19, 2009

Let the Social Media ‘land-grab’ begin! Not that it hadn’t already. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIN and Twitter are no minnows, but one of the web superpowers has weighed in. Google is here and the arms race is on – full speed ahead. Of course I am talking about Google Wave.

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There are a number of future defining battles being waged at the moment, and I think any review of the ‘new kid on the block’ needs to consider the environment. Especially when that ‘new kid’ is Google and the stakes are so high. Google may not be ‘betting the ranch’, but this is a big gamble for leadership of the social media domain.

The ‘macro’ review of Google Wave needs to look at ubiquity, inclusiveness, purpose and resonance (stick with me and I’ll explain). The ‘micro’ review of Google Wave is simpler – how does it work? – what’s new about it? – and of course, is it any good?

GoogleWorldUbiquity – critical mass is a must for social media applications. Participants must be able to find the people they are looking for, and it is not surprising that growth trends, numbers of users, and drop-off rates, are the common topics for media comment. Google comes to the party with the most ubiquitous search, advertising, and mapping platforms and a pretty handy amount of market penetration with Google Mail, Google Docs and a host of other web environments, including the relatively new Chrome browser. The “900lb Gorilla” has entered the mainstream social media fray. Surprisingly it has not brought its full market ‘penetration’ with it – yet. To play with Wave, you need a Google Mail account as a prerequisite, and then, if you get an invitation, you are issued a new ‘@googlewave.com’ account. For Google to dominate the space, something will have to change, as not everyone or every corporation is going to want to drop their domain name. Perhaps this will change before the final Wave launch, however it is an interesting initial limitation. This barrier is compounded by the ‘your not invited’ feel of the deployment so far. This brings us to another dimension – inclusiveness …

Inclusiveness – you may be acutely aware that not everyone has access to the Google Wave preview. This may be the sensible thing, with a whole bunch of logical reasons why it needs to be a limited release. After all, it is new, largely untested in broad public deployment, and it is not in its final form – and don’t forget the problems some social media platforms have had with traffic volumes and rapid growth. Of course, there is the other view, that some of the unpleasant dynamics of traditional human networks, are bound to translate to the cyber incarnation of human networking. Google, willingly or not, is creating an ‘in-crowd’. Even with your Google Mail account, getting a Wave Account takes some persuasion (at least it did for me). Google are not alone, Twitter recently launched ‘Lists’, allowing Twitter users to group their connections – this, like Google Wave, is a limited test release (I’m still on the bench). By their very nature, social networks are tools for inclusion and exclusion. With the evolution of online social media, it appears that the bohemian and egalitarian dynamics of the Internet are coming to an end, if indeed they ever existed at all. Network dynamics will ultimately have your peers determining your level of connectivity and online power. Sound dramatic? Well its should, and in all the communication benefits of online social media, the emergent power gulf is the ‘dirty little secret’. Accessibility is not a web standard commonly discussed in the same sentence as online networks. If you agree with my People not Pages post, the difference is that pages (as objects) are largely equal, people are not. As the web shifts to a ‘people connection’ framework, the fundamentals change, and the much more complex array of human issues find a new home, online. We had all better start getting used to the concept (and feeling) of digital exclusion.

Purpose – a large part of the success of Twitter lies in its singularity of purpose, as a result, perhaps more than any other Social Media platform, it integrates with almost everything else. It has a handy API (application programming interface) that allows other systems to connect to it, build upon it, and enhance key aspects and functionality. On the continuum between ‘be one thing’ and ‘be everything’, Twitter is toward the specialist end, Facebook is somewhere in the middle, and MySpace is toward the ‘be everything’ end of the continuum. Google, Microsoft and Apple are arguably even further in the ‘be everything’ direction. All of the vendors have opened their walls, somewhat – although not as dramatically as Twitter. Google Wave looks likely to encourage third-party development of extensions with one hand, but on the other hand, it seems to be trying to re-invent, replace and control other online spaces – email, collaboration and real-time communication for a start. The big question is, can one vendor control such a large space, or will integrated specialists win out? This battlefront will rage for a long time. The broader, multi-domain gambits, benefit from global brand power and more cash, the specialists have domain knowledge and singularity of focus. For me, Google is ‘biting off’ an awful lot of territory in one new application, and this also makes the purpose and functionality of Wave confusing. Not surprisingly, people find Wave hard to explain (not simply because it is something new).

Resonance – At the end of the day people vote with their feet. Google won the ‘Search Wars’ because people voted to use it, instead of the other strong options available at the time. Some of this is about fads, brand, promotion and the vagaries of human behavior. At the very real risk of oversimplification, Yahoo, MSN and others were more complicated portals and search tools, Google was an elegant, simple, single purpose search window, with it’s complexity well hidden ‘under-the-hood’. This resonated for the majority of users and Google won! Google Wave is complex, multipurpose, and forgive me, but “a bit more Yahoo than Google”, maybe even “a bit more Microsoft than Google”. The agile young Google is now a big behemoth – is this what happens when you aren’t agile anymore? Will Google Wave resonate with masses of users, in the way that the single-purpose and simple-to-use Google Search, Google Maps and Google Mail have in the past? I guess we will all find out in due course.

So how does it work, what is new, and is it any good?

If you want to know what Google Wave is – start with this tw0-minute video by EpipheoStudios.com (fun and it will save you more than the two minutes it takes to watch). Still unclear? Good, because that is the point. Is Google Wave a replacement for email? Yes and No. It has an email style account – mine is veridianmedia@googlewave.com but it’s a ‘wave’ not an email. Is it a collaboration tool? Yes and No. You can collaborate on a ‘Wave’ but it is not strictly a document, email, or piece of content that is easily ported into another framework (at least not yet). Is it a contact manager? Yes and No. You use Google Contacts (beta) to manage your contacts and you can put them in groups (friends, family, co-workers and custom groups) however you can’t work with, or externally flag, groups within the Google Wave environment (just yet). So it’s not Twitter (short-form messaging), it’s not Facebook or LinkedIN or MySpace or a replacement for any other social media property (again – just yet) and at the same time, it doesn’t integrate with any of them either (just yet – sorry! Make the ‘just yet’ a caveat for everything else, because it is only in preview after all).

WaveCollaboration

So what’s new?

The image above shows 69 people all collaborating on the same Wave today (as I was writing in fact). Think interactive, real-time email with rich-media and applications embedded. Sort of wiki meets email meets instant messenger meets Google Docs. This was a group of Australian ‘Wave People’ (wavers?) sharing their details. This is new, pretty cool, and practical in its own way. It also highlights an initial Wave weakness – the application didn’t let these people meet each other and collect this simple ‘address book’ data set from their Wave contact information. It is much harder (so far) to make inter-personal connections than it is with Twitter (the easiest), Facebook or LinkedIN. The lack of people with preview access is only part of the reason.

Security, audit trails, accountability, content moderation and approval are all authorship and control issues for exploration – at least you can ‘playback’ the wave and watch the construction in order and see who did what, when. I have to say that Wave has some significant novelty, innovation and smarts – even things like adaptive (contextual) spell checking are nice subtle benefits, not new per se, but well integrated into something that collectively is new. The practicality of Wave as an ’email replacement’ is still a big question, especially since email communications have some legal standing, will a ‘Wave’ stand up to the same scrutiny?

Is it any good?

Yes! It is good. Although I am not entirely sure what it is yet. Based on Google’s material (videos and help), I don’t think they know exactly what it is yet either. When you get the opportunity to play with Wave, jump in, but expect a bit of a learning curve and some initial frustration. Wave, like all network tools, will work better with more contacts, integration with other network platforms and the natural course of product refinement. Don’t throw away your email just yet. If you want to see the features demonstrated, and have five minutes to spare, watch the Google Wave: 15 features video published by Google.

The big lesson

The web is becoming less about content and more about people – re-stressing what I said in my ‘People not Pages’ blog entry last month. Get your place in the social web established NOW! If you think that you can ignore social media, or wait for Google Wave, or Microsoft, or the whole ‘land-grab’ to sort itself out before you get involved – you are wrong, and you’ll get left with the ‘cheap seats’.

Personally and professionally you need to be activating your online social media TODAY! Google Wave already leverages the investment its users have made in other social media environments – even without any formal integration. One platform leaks into, and crosses over with, other social media conversations and platforms. These are real people, making real connections, and meeting, doing business and experiencing life together. Time to join in!

Promote yourself in the appropriate way for the medium …
Join me on Google Wave: VeridianMedia@googlewave.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/drwarwick

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 11:19 AM

    Thanks once again David for doing all of the hard work to ensure that I don’t have to do any work at all to stay up-to-date in the ever changing, fast-moving, mind-numbing world of social media! Please ignore James Murdoch and don’t start charging us!

  2. October 19, 2009 11:22 AM

    Speaking of JM, your thoughts on the threats to the new business models of online newspapers from the likes of the BBC and the ABC with their ever-increasing free content? Can we ever see the end of free?

  3. Stephen Brewer permalink
    October 19, 2009 10:29 PM

    Fascinating development in the online landscape, let alone the social media one, David.

    Thanks for giving us the insight you are privileged to be able to. One argument I will take up with you though is this: I think Google know EXACTLY what they are doing. I think they know what Wave is, but they are just deliberately leaving it flexible enough to see if they need to adapt the model around people’s use of it.

    And since when has creating an ‘in’ crowd ever hurt a brand’s desirability?

    Considering the flood of people downloading and installing Google
    Chrome, they have been wise to limit the initial access to this new application.

  4. October 21, 2009 2:11 AM

    You may want to take a good look at Google Friend Connect.

    You have a good take on Gwave and the fact it is a social network, but the fact you did not mention Google Friend Connect tells me you only get a small part of the picture.

    GFC is the social network, Gwave is the communication platform. As far as being able to add friends, there are a number of ways but Google is not going to allow mass friending of people for no real reason or relationship and Gwave users are not going to respond to that kind of thing either.

  5. October 21, 2009 4:27 AM

    Chris, thanks for the feedback. I will spend some more time getting to know Google Friend Connect (GFC). I think on the ‘mass friending’ however that Google Wave does allow mass (and easy) networking – you simply bring anyone on a wave into your network, follow a Wave with lots of people and you can make connections very fast.

    The problem is working with groups and knowing something about your connections is not easy (at the moment). No doubt the richness of the application and the simplicity of basic actions is only going to get better.

  6. October 21, 2009 3:00 PM

    You can bring all the contacts you want into Google Wave. If you do not get a response or the other person does not add you to their contacts it is a dead issue.

    In my case many like Jack Humphrey call me the #1 expert on GFC and Gwave. Now I don’t know about all that but it makes me attractive as a Gwave contact.

    However, with out this title, not many would instantly add me as a friend. This is not going to be a numbers game like FB and Twitter. It is going to be about quality. It is not a closed loop message system like most social networks. It IS based on your Gmail address and it is like giving that address away.

    Some like me have a public Gmail address just for GFC and Gwave. However many DO NOT want this public. I beleive that will be most Gwave users. So mass friending may well not work.

    I do know that going thru a GFC gadget and friending everyone you can does not work. We tested that well. IT does NOT work but we have some much more effective ways of adding targeted friends that does not involve spamming people just to get a huge following.

    You may also want to notice that this is an email address and is based on Gmail. Hence sending spam in Gwave could easily fall under the Can-Spam federal laws and I would be real careful of the age of your friends and what you send them.

    You never know when someone in your friends list is a minor and what could come of that.

    Glad to get to know you here a bit here. Looking forward to more. – Chris Lang

  7. William Jamieson permalink
    January 21, 2010 10:03 AM

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on the lack of inclusiveness, and the vibe this sends to the market. I’ve always found it a bizarre approach and goes against much of what we’re taught in the discipline of marketing. However its interesting to note that gMail also used an exclusive signup process when it was in its beta testing period. Yet now, the juggernaut of gMail seems to be the horse to back in free web/pop/imap mail war. The generally high quality of their product offerings seem to help us to move beyond feelings of exclusion and just make us keen get our hands on the keys to try out their latest offerings.

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