Wave interference is a relatively simple scientific concept that can be difficult to grasp at first. Many are introduced to the idea in high school or college physics, usually being shown something like the double slit experiment. Whilst this is a great demonstration of the wave properties of light it’s not exactly obvious how the constructive and destructive interference actually works. Something like the following video, I feel, gives a far better visual impression of what wave interference and superpositioning does in the real world.
The really cool demonstration comes in at about 55 seconds in where they demonstrate a concentric wave singularity, or what they call “The Spike”. Basically they make the waves work in such a way that once they meet in the middle they all interfere with each other at just the right point. This results in the rapid formation of a cavity in the middle which is then slammed shut as the waves return to their peak. The resulting geyser flows upward for far longer than you’d expect it to which is a great demonstration of the power of constructive interference with waves.
FloWave itself was constructed to replicate currents and waves seen in the ocean. This allows companies and researchers to test out their technologies in a controlled environment before they get deployed offshore, potentially saving costly repairs and re-engineering. That means that it’s mostly used to test out how things respond to various kinds of waves and currents, rather than generating awesome wave spikes that shoot water several stories into the air. Still I’d love something like this on a smaller scale to do my own demonstrations of wave interference.
I still remember sitting down to the hour long Google Wave introduction video almost a year and a half ago. I was stuck at work after hours monitoring a transition process and found the video as something to have in the background whilst my mind wandered off. Towards the end though I had completely forgotten about what I was doing and was transfixed on this new Google tech that could bring about a new world of communication. It also spoke to the developer inside me who had been thinking about information aggregation for a long time and subsequently I blogged about my excitement a day later.
Four months later saw me finally get an invite to the service along with a good number of my techie friends. I was enamoured with itinitially seeing it as a curiosity that defied social conventions and served as a great thought experiment about how we humans communicate. It was also a social focal point for a while, enabling me to reconnect with some friends who I wasn’t able to catch through other communication mediums. Still the interest only lasted about a fortnight before people started to drop off it and a month later it was rare to find anyone else on the service, let alone them being responsive to my waves.
Three months after that post Google released their Twitter competitor Buzz. At the time of its release I commentedon how this would kill any remaining interest in Wave because it would be seen as a competing communication method. Buzz had the integration upper hand as it was provided along side Gmail, something which wave didn’t (and couldn’t) have. I had logged into wave spuriously since then, usually to grant someone an invite or to see if there was anything new on the service. Nothing had changed since my last encounter with the service, it lied there abandoned and forgotten.
Yesterday saw Google acknowledge that user adoption hadn’t been great and that they weren’t going to continue developing Wave as a standalone product:
Google is halting development on Wave, its web app for real-time communication.
“We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product,” Google Senior Vice President of Operations Urs Hölzle said on the official Google Blog Wednesday.
The company cites slow user adoption as the reason for its decision. Google will continue to support Wave through the end of the year, at which point the product will be phased out.
Honestly the slow rate of adoption didn’t really surprise me as Wave was virtually unknown to anyone outside the tech industry. It’s quite reminiscent of many open source endeavours, a solid product with great vision but not entirely meant for widespread adoption. The reason that email, IM and now services like Twitter have taken off is arguably their simplicity and wide appeal. Wave on the other hand had little familiarity with non-tech users and struggled to bring them on board. Additionally it barely managed to garner the press attention required to gain the critical mass of users to make it a viable means of communication. Unfortunately that was the beginning of the end for the Wave product and Google has finally decided to put it out to pasture.
That’s not to say that all the work on Wave is for naught. While it was quite ambitious to think that Wave could replace Google Docs and some of Google’s other web services the augmentations that it provided will eventually make their way into those services. The underlying server technology will more than likely be open sourced, leading to the possibility that some keen developers might make the Wave idea into a viable product some day. There’s also the possibility that some of Wave’s innovations will work their way into Google’s other services as well, providing more features and hopefully more opportunities for real time integration with third party services.
Trying to rethink certain paradigms is always fraught with risk, especially ones as ingrained as the way we communicate on the web. Whilst it was a noble idea to reinvent email as if it was designed today the fact of the matter is that email and the other traditional forms of electronic communication work and replacing them outright is fighting several decades of incumbency. As with all great innovations though we will see Wave’s influence in many of Google’s future products and whilst it’s not the communication revolution I once said it would be we will still be using Wave for years to come, even if we don’t realise it.
So a couple days ago I caught wind of yet another upcoming Google service called Buzz. On the surface it looked like another attempt to crack into that oh-so-lucrative area of social networking (remember Orkut? Still big in Brazil and India apparently) but with a slight twist, it was going to appear in Gmail. Initially I wrote this off since I don’t use the Gmail interface very often, I’m more of an Outlook kind of guy, but when I logged in this morning and was invited to give Buzz a go I thought I might as well give it the once over to see if there would be any value in switching across.
So the integration into Gmail is pretty seamless, its just another folder on the web interface. With Gmail attracting some 150 million users every month (Less than half of Facebook, FYI) that means they have a good amount of eyes on their product already. Still it will be interesting to see the conversion rates from regular Gmail users to Buzz as the welcome screen lets you opt out completely with one click. There’s really no bells and whistles on the landing page for Buzz either so you’re not going to have to duck and weave your way through a new UI to get Buzzing. Overall you could be mistaken for thinking that Buzz was just a strangely named email folder with an icon.
I set about adding contacts to my Buzz page to see how adding people would go. Much like Facebook searching for anyone’s name directly usually ends up with thousands of people who you’ve never seen before. You can search through your contacts but this is probably the first place where Buzz falls down. To add all my Gmail buddies (which are few since I don’t use the web interface) I had to go to the search box and type in their name. I wouldn’t want to have a long list of people I’d like to add to this as I’d have to type them all in again to add them to my Buzz feed. Also while running under Firefox 3.5 I had the search box lock up on me at least 3 times and had to wait for the script kill pop up to be able to regain control of my browser. Granted this was the only technical difficulty I had with it (a long way from Wave, which we managed to crash regularly) but still any web application that locks up my browser doesn’t give me a good impression, especially when it’s something from Google.
After getting all my contacts into the list (and noticing that they haven’t posted anything to Buzz yet) I started adding in some “connected sites”. These are basically sites that you either contribute to like Youtube and Twitter or sites you own, like this blog. If you’ve created a Google Profile before you’ll be familiar with this process and the list they create is drawn from the same information. Most notably if you’ve used Google’s Webmaster’s Tools it will pick up on the sites in there as well as some other services that use your Google login. Unlike their profile service the number of extra sites is quite limited with services like Youtube, LinkedIn and Orkut missing from the list. This is strange considering 2 out of 3 of that list are in fact owned by Google.
So the real meat in Buzz seems to come from its ability to aggregate information from a whole bunch of sources into one location. I can understand the motivation behind this as it is pretty much the same idea that drives Geon. There’s also the fact that Buzz will have integration into other Google services like Maps and will also let you export a person’s feed as RSS. It would be quite an understatement to say that this wasn’t a goldmine for Geon as at its core these 2 technologies are what drives the information that will be available through it. For good measure Google slapped on the ability to post directly to Buzz which I think is completely useless but is required to get those Gmail users using Buzz sooner rather than later.
Overall it looks like a decent service and the captive Gmail audience was a good target to launch this product at. However Buzz detracts quite heavily from Google’s other communication product Wave. I sung high praises of Wave when it was first released but I’ll be honest with you, my last couple logins have seen it turn into a ghost town. My last wave is dated the 27th of November and I haven’t heard anyone else mention it in well over a month. Buzz claws away that tiny amount of market share that Wave had by giving the same level of information aggregation minus the confusing interface and social convention shift. Wave may be great for collaboration but its current market is pretty narrow, especially when there’s no one else using it. Had wave been introduced in a similar way to Buzz I could have seen it garnering much more acceptance and Buzz would’ve become an augmentation of it. Rather now it seems Wave will be left to its niche and Buzz will be the one to enjoy more widespread success. That might have been Google’s plan all along however.
Will it ever be as popular as Facebook or Twitter? Probably not but I don’t think that’s Google’s intention. It’s another avenue that Google can exploit to better target their advertising and increase user engagement with their services. With Wave still trying to find its place (and monetization stream) in the world Buzz is a more cautious step towards getting more people on Google’s products other than search. Personally I can’t see myself actively using it, but I’ll definitely be integrating it in much the same way as I did with Twitter.
It was almost 4 months ago when I first blogged about the impending communication revolution that would take its form in Google Wave. Back then it was out of my reach and the late September date I was given at the time for a wider release to the public came and went. I resolved myself to reading up a bit more on the protocol and then leaving it at that, hoping that eventually I would get a chance to have at it. Well no less than two weeks ago a few of my friends were invited and last week I managed to score an invite off one of them myself. Queue an entire Friday afternoon spent chatting, collaborating and breaking Google Wave with 5 of my technically inclined friends. Wave has definitely managed to live up to the hype, but not without some very interesting consequences.
When you open up Wave you’re greeted with a very a familiar Google-ish interface. It’s clean and minimalistic something which is rare in today’s rich content web. It’s really just an updated version of their Gmail interface which will help ease people into the transition from email to Wave. You’re added into a couple of default Waves in order to help you get the feel for how to navigate around and what features are available which won’t tell much to us techies but should help your average user get into the right mind set. After stumbling around for a bit and clicking wildly I caught my friend and co-worker who had had wave for a week or so and got into some real waving, and this is where it got interesting.
By default Wave is set up to transmit your keystrokes in real time to everyone who is part of the wave you’re adding to or editing on. The demonstration of this showed it to be quite snappy however it appears that the speed shown was probably due to the fact that the server was 10 meters away from them. As the wave starts to grow in size the lag starts to become more noticable up until the point where you can type a whole sentence before it appears on screen. This seemed to be alleviated somewhat by using Google Chrome which also added the benefit of being able to drag and drop files directly onto a wave. You can get the same functionality by installing Google Gears but you’ll still be better off installing Chrome (there didn’t seem to be any performance improvement in Firefox when using Gears).
After fooling around for a while trying all the various features and figuring out some system limitations (long character strings in excess of 256 characters without spaces seem to hurt Wave in a very bad way) it dawned on us that there was no social convention for using this new tech. For instance if you’re watching someone type something and you think you know what they’re talking about the reaction is to start typing your response right away. In a conversation this would be equivalent to interrupting them whilst they were talking, which is a bit rude. There’s also the issue of in-line responses, which allow you to reply to a section of a wave. You can do this while they’re typing and whilst it seemed useful at the demonstration, it only seems to sever the flow of conversation mid-stream. All of Wave’s features lack social conventions on their use and as such feel slightly awkward to use (and also make for some fun with Internet memes).
This isn’t necessairly a bad thing, it just means that the technology really is a paradigm shift in the ways of Internet communication. Email suffered less from this as it was mostly just an electronic representation of a physical process, and thus was easily understood. Wave on the other hand functions like email mashed with IM and a sprinkling of a collaborative document management on top. It’s highly unusual and really has no physical process which it replicates. Thus it will take some time for people to develop their own standards and conventions on how Wave will be used. It will be interesting to see how it will develop as I can see many different ways of setting Wave standards, each with their own merits.
Is it a faux pas to respond inline whilst someone is typing? When is part of a Wave off-limits for replying to? Do you ever need to actually hit done, since you can just keep re-editing your wave which everyone can see? There are so many questions and only time with everyday usage will give us the answers.
If you’re on Wave and want to have a chat, I’m on there at [email protected]
Taking a look over the past decade or so of technology and communications you’ll notice that they’re hasn’t been any revolutionary ideas that have come forward. Sure there have been a lot of improvements or augmentations to current technology but no one has really gone back and thought about the underlying principals of communication and how to make them transcend new mediums. When I first heard about Google Wave it was something that was supposed to be “pretty cool” but I didn’t hear much more of it then that. Queue the following video, which I thoroughly recommend watching if you have the time (I’ll give a general overview of it anyway if you can’t spare the 1.5 hours):
In essence Wave is a wrapper around many different modes of communication such as email, twitter and instant messaging with augmentations that allow for some creative ways of interacting with the flow of the communications. This by itself isn’t a revolutionary means of transforming communication but due to Google’s idea of open sourcing the majority of the code and having a wealth of APIs developed this will allow the market to drive the innovation, and that is where the true revolution can begin.
Looking over it I couldn’t help but notice a trend that has been developing over the past few years when it comes to technologies like this. On the Internet we have access to such wide and disperate sources of information that it is easy to become overwhelmed when you’re trying to filter out everything you don’t want to see. Many technologies have tried to solve this issue by allowing you to aggregate your personal choices into one interface (things like RSS feeds) in the hopes to focus your experience. Wave is Google’s attempt to transcend all the mediums and bring them onto a more robust and open platform which is not only a boon for them but also for standards based development, something that the Internet has been lacking for a long time (thank you Internet Explorer!).
I like the idea a lot. I see myself using many different forms of communication these days and it would be great to have a unified web based interface to the lot of them. Of course the augmentations that Google has added (that spell checker and auto-translator are awesome) would make using this platform worthwhile but as we’ve seen with other Google products once the developers get their hands on it the applications will widen considerably. Couple that with the fact that they’ll let you run your own Wave server and I’m sold, I love having new toys to play with on my web server 🙂
Hopefully the haiku and ASCII frog I sent them will butter them up enough to send me an invite….. 😉