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Author Topic: Scoble: Google Wave is worse than E-mail  (Read 2329 times)

Paul Keith

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Scoble: Google Wave is worse than E-mail
« on: October 20, 2009, 11:03 AM »

OK, I took a few hours off from playing with Google Wave yesterday. I read all my comments on the post I wrote Thursday about Google Wave, many of which were very ascerbic toward me.

I took the day off and said “what if they are right?” and “is Google Wave a really great way to collaborate with other people?”

On coming back to Google Wave with fresh eyes tonight and even after collaborating with people on a few things my answer is “no, they are not right” and “no, Google Wave is even less productive than email.”

But, first, over on TechCrunch and Mashable I discovered this cute little video that showed off what Google Wave is and how it could be used. In that video you’ll learn that Google Wave is like email but “modernized.” Well, OK, let’s see how the email metaphor holds up and see if Google Wave has actually made us more productive, shall we?

I’ve been studying how teams collaborate for quite some time. I’ve worked at small companies, big ones like NEC and Microsoft, and medium ones like Rackspace.

I’ve interviewed lots of productivity experts over the years, including the guy who wrote “Getting Things Done.”

Plus I’ve been doing public collaboration for more than 20 years too.

Here’s what I’ve learned: email sucks.

Email is probably the most unproductive tool you use. Even though it is the most familiar. Here’s some reasons why:

1. Anyone can send you email. That leads to spam. But worse, that spam, or that funny email from Aunt Sue, gets placed on top of the email from your wife or your boss. Or, the request from a customer that could lead to a huge contract. (A coworker of mine once screwed up an account because such an email was missed).

2. Email in your account is only available to you. So, let’s say you are pitching Toyota tomorrow for a new kind of headlight assembly. You might be talking with your boss about that and maybe an engineer or two who made the product you’re going to pitch. But, is there a chance that another coworker could get involved because he might know something about Toyota without being directly asked to get involved? No. Yet if you were talking in a more open toolset like Salesforce, Yammer, SocialText, or Sharepoint that other guy might actually see you’re talking about something he has knowledge about. I’ve seen this happen over and over because I talk about my projects in public. Heck, that’s exactly how this interview with LaVar Burton got done (it really is a good one too, thanks to Michael Sean Wright who I met online and who took over interviewing duties while I missed the Twitter Conference).

3. Email is hard to search, because of limited metadata and because you can’t search across company, just your own inbox.

4. Email gets turned off when you leave a company. At NEC I had more than a gig of email. It was deleted the day I left there. As it should be. But, the guy who replaced me sure could have used a lot of the knowledge I built up in that email store. Once I left, though, it was gone forever from both people inside the company and outside.

5. Email doesn’t tell you much about the person. Xobni and Gist and other companies are trying to change that, so you can see stuff about who they are, what they’ve done online, etc. This helps you to prioritize your email.

6. Prioritizing your email is difficult at best. Tools like ClearContext try to help by studying your answering patterns.

But, to repeat myself from the other day, Google Wave adds many of these unproductive problems and then lays another few unproductive things on top. What are those?

1. Chat. Live chat. You know, the kind where you can see me typing my characters. Why is this unproductive? Because your eye gets drawn to anything that moves on screen. This is a HUGE attention distractor. That means less productivity for you. And it’s not easy to turn off (I’ve tried to find it). Cure? Only open Wave once in a while, never leave it open. That is a demonstration that it’s even worse than email.

2. Social networking. The social networking features here are far worse than Twitter’s or Facebook’s. Why? No bio. No real names. No real way to manage them and put them into groups. I’d really like to ONLY see Rackspace employees when I sign into Google Wave. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet and that should be the FIRST thing that a collaboration tool like this lets you do. It’s inconsistent too. In Contacts at bottom left, full names aren’t used, but if you click “+” and add someone to a wave there you’ll see full names. Consistency people!

3. Imperfect affordances. There’s a trash can on my screen in Google Wave. Yet I haven’t figured out how to delete anything or why it’s there. Drag and drop? Doesn’t work. Right click? No “trash” or “delete.” Up on the toolbar? Nope, no trash. Now I’m sure someone will call me an idiot for not figuring it out, but I’m making a point here. Stuff here doesn’t work the same way it does on your desktop, or even in your email.

4. They take an email metaphor but they threw out the good parts. I can’t figure out how to BCC someone, for instance. That’s something that lots of us use to make sure that our bosses are kept up to date on projects without including them in the conversation. Oh, yes, I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but in Gmail it’s in your face. In Google Wave? Can’t find it.

5. No clear integration into Google Docs and Spreadsheets, which is where a lot of us are already doing collaboration. Now I know why we need SocialWok. To join all these things together. But why wasn’t that done in Wave?

6. It’s sssssssssllllllllloooooooooowwwwwwww. Sorry, when I’m collaborating with other people I want everything to be snappy fast. Even if you think I’m an idiot on every other point this one will really piss you off. Yes, I know, it’s not beta, but on the other hand first impressions matter and if this thing is so slow now imagine when it gets millions of people onto it.

7. The most powerful part of Google Wave is the bots and extensions that are possible to it, but if you are looking for a well thought out “store” where you can acquire those, like Apple’s iPhone has, give it up. You’ll have to find these on your own (I’m getting a ton BECAUSE I opened up my wave to everyone and now people are asking me “did you get this bot yet?” Of course opening up my wave to everyone has made the tool very unproductive in other ways).

8. Where did all these people come from? Just like with email, anyone can get access to your “inbox.” Including spammers and bad actors. All sorts of people have put stuff in my inbox already. This is NOT like other collaboration tools where I have to agree to see your stuff first (like Skype or other IM). The spam opportunities here are immense until we get a great social networking set of management tools. Worse, even Twitter lets you “block” people, which makes them invisible to your inbox. Not sure how to do that with Google Wave.

9. Waves are seemingly only open to other wave users. Not sure about that, but I can’t see a permalink on anything. Right now there’s an interesting wave going about technology. I don’t know how to link you to it or let you know where to find it. So, now I’ve got to figure out a new metaphor for telling you about things. I’m sure everything is URI/URL based but I can’t find them so I can’t share them with you. And people wonder why I blog. Hint: you can link to this blog easily by copying the URL. Everyone knows how to do that. Now try to do the same thing with a Wave. Wave seems like it wants lockin. IE, to really get a lot out of Wave you have to also use Wave all day long. Email isn’t like that. You can use any email client and you have lots of choices. Don’t like Gmail? Use Hotmail. Don’t like Hotmail? Use Yahoo mail. Don’t like those? Get your own pop server and do it yourself. Etc etc. Now try to do that with Wave. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So, what will I use for collaboration instead?

1. With Rocky and Rob and Fran and Robert at Rackspace I will continue to use email to notify them of new projects and Google Docs and Spreadsheets to be the objects of those collaborations. Will Wave change this? No.
2. With them I will use Skype or Twitter DM’s for chit chatty stuff that doesn’t need to be kept around in case I get hit by a bus. Stuff like “where we going drinking when we get into San Antonio next?” Actually, this is already how I’m seeing people using Wave, but that means Wave is already a noise generator that is similar to Twitter. Not good. And since I can’t lock out everyone else (at least yet, or at least that I’ve figured out because the UI is so complicated).
3. For deep, project-starting stuff, we will use voice on Skype or just phones, which are really great because I can call from anywhere, not just where I have a fast Internet connection.
4. For group stuff that needs to be kept around and be searchable we’ll continue to use FriendFeed’s groups, which can be made private.
5. For document repository, we have a lot of choices, lots of which are better than Google Wave. Things like Dropbox or or JungleDisk. Or even old-school Sharepoint, which nearly every large company already has implemented.
6. Because of their openness and URL-centricity, real wikis are still more productive (and don’t have the bad email metaphor or the attention stealing character-by-character display). Can you imagine Wikipedia being done as a Wave? What an abortion that would be. There’s a ton of great wikis out there that are far more interesting for group collaboration than Wave is. Oh, and I bet that if you want that info to get into Microsoft’s Bing search engine that Wikis will beat Google Waves everytime!
7. Specific domain collaboration. Here I’m thinking of working with designers. Compare ConceptShare to Google Wave. ConceptShare will beat it every time.

Anyway, I could keep going.

Where will Wave prove interesting? I think some developer will find a new, simple, metaphor and will use Google Wave’s APIs to develop something interesting. SocialWok demonstrates just that is possible. But we haven’t seen that breakthrough idea yet and, so, for most of you Google Wave will just turn your collaborative life unproductive.

That’s OK, we do things that are unproductive all the time like play Farmville.

For geeks like me, wasting time on cool new technologies is lots of fun. But for most of the world?

It’s just wasting time. Good luck out there! Me? I think I’ll go do something really fun with my unproductive time left this weekend, like take my kids to watch real surfers in Santa Cruz, which is where I shot the photo above.



Google Wave is currently an alpha release, at least in my opinion. I believe Google allowed limited public access to allow users to criticize & test Wave. So definitely, Robert's points should be taken into consideration by Dr. Wave's team. However, it's also a bit unfair to criticize Wave for bugs or features that can easily be fixed in the next preview release. Here are some points I'd like to make:

1. The "distracting" real-time updates cannot be turned off, but they can be filtered easily. I'm currently viewing "Public Waves", a custom search that shows all public waves, so definitely the updates come every few seconds. However, if I switch to "By Me", there a only a few waves in my stream so the updates come less often. So, to minimize distraction, create a custom search that limits your stream to important waves.

2. The social networking aspect of Wave definitely needs improvement, but I can appreciate the reasoning behind the current set-up. Just like Twitter, Wave's social networking is less personal than Facebook, but allows easier discovery of people & topics that may be of interest to a user. I'm sure Google will allow filtering your stream to view waves with people who are added to your Contacts, which will also help solve the 1st problem. Even Twitter doesn't have groups yet, so we should give Google time to implement this properly.

3. The lack of an easy access to deleting a Wave is definitely a valid criticism. I've been using Wave on a slow connection, so I'm not really sure if dragging the Wave to the Trash works consistently right now, but that's what I did to some of my drafts. A "Move to Trash" button would be the best option, though with the current lack of granular access rights control, this might cause even more problems.

4. BCC is an feature that will not work in Wave, since the paradigm is different. All a Wave's participants are displayed on the top, so if you add your boss to the Wave, he should be able to see it, and people will know that he sees it. If you want to send him a private message, you use "Private reply".

5. As I said, this is an alpha release, so Docs integration is not implemented yet. Even Gmail is not integrated yet, and I think that will come first. Even though Wave is publicly available, it's definitely still in a sandbox, just bigger.

6. Wave's scalability is definitely a valid concern, but I believe that Google will improve this as they observe the usage patterns of the community. As it is, I have no issues with speed, though Wave definitely works best on Chrome, and there are noticeable differences when I try Wave on Safari or Firefox.

7. Like I said, this is a alpha release, so the number of extensions is still small. As the user & developer communities grow, the number of extensions will increase. Just give it time, this is the part of Wave that I'm most excited about.

8. Just like e-mail, people can send you messages easily. That's why there's a "Spam" button. You can't block people directly right now, but that can be added in a future release.

9. The easiest way to share a wave is to add a participant to a wave from your contacts; that's even easier than sending a link through e-mail. Waves are definitely open to other Wave users at the moment because Wave is on a limited public preview. That's also why the only way to access Wave is through the Wave website, the APIs are still in early development since this a preview release. The Wave Embed API is available though, so that might help some fellow Wavers with sharing certain waves with the public.

So, is Wave ready for the mainstream? Nope. Will I continue using Wave? Definitely. I see the potential for this platform, and I want to see it improve. So, go ahead & criticize Wave, but don't write it off until it's been given some time to grow.


Just going through the things that Wave adds that email doesn't have and that have (in your opinion) a negative impact in their implementations:

1. Live Chat - distraction as you can see typing.
You can't turn this off at the moment but I think that is coming. It is certainly coming to stop other people seeing your typing. This would be a minor change in the scheme of things to have a button to enable the typing to show up before the done button was pressed. Seems like a weak start to the list. Also I disagree that it lowers productivity. Have you used Wave yet with anyone who is offline? Then it reverts to feeling much more like email. People trying out Wave are desperate to see the new "cool stuff" and are going for both online realtime chatting. That is just one thing that Wave can do.

2. Social Networking features - No bio. No real names. No real way to manage them and put them into groups.
These seem incredibly minor to me. All of these can be added without too much trouble. I don't personally think that Wave is aiming to be like the other social networks. The sort of idea is much more like... email wasn't good enough for sharing things between people... so people moved to social networks which are much more immersive and interactive and you can share things better than email... but social networks are closed off and don't talk to each other... it would actually better if email was just better so we didn't need all of the different social networks... Wave is this upgrade.

3. Can't delete stuff yet.
Again - fair enough it is a bug. I'm sure they'll fix this. This is not a deal breaker is it.

4. No BCC Support.
I'm not sure what the equivalent is here. Maybe they will have people you can add who have read only rights or something. But I think for the moment it's best just to add the person to the Wave. It should be obvious from the content they are just observing. With better contact management / groups there might be a way to say - "make public to group" so all of them can see it (but are not necessarily part of it). Like the public waves now but more specific (i.e. not everyone, say just your company).

5. No docs / spreadsheet integration.
I'm sure integration will come through gadgets / robots. The APIs are there.

6. It's slow.
First good criticism in my eyes. It is slow. Not really too valid to say imagine how slow it will be when there are loads more people on it as Google clearly knows more than anyone about scaling. Also not relevant as it is the protocol that you perhaps need to worry about rather than the specific service. Soon people on Google Wave could be talking to Zoho Wave, Yahoo Wave etc.

7. There isn't a store for robots / gadgets.
There actually is a directory of the best gadgets on Google's website. A selection of stuff built during the developer preview.

8. I don't really understand this point. It's like saying email doesn't work because people can email you without getting permission first. If they know your address they can get in touch with you - same as with email. You are famous so your experience might be somewhat different.

9. Waves only open to wave users.
Waves can be published - so can be open to everyone. This bit of what you said totally misses the mark:

"Wave seems like it wants lockin. IE, to really get a lot out of Wave you have to also use Wave all day long. Email isn’t like that. You can use any email client and you have lots of choices. Don’t like Gmail? Use Hotmail. Don’t like Hotmail? Use Yahoo mail. Don’t like those? Get your own pop server and do it yourself. Etc etc. Now try to do that with Wave. Go ahead, I’ll wait."

You will be able to do this with Wave. You can't right now - the federation isn't turned on yet and there are no competing products. The tech is all open though and Google are encouraging this openness. Wave doesn't have the ecosystem around it yet because it is early days. It is all being worked on - you'll have to be patient but yes you can set up your own wave server. Happy?

Also please note that email has the same lock in situation. You notice you can only send emails to email users? Yes that just happens to be pretty much everyone with an internet connection but this wasn't always the case. You are not giving Wave a chance. They plan to make it work with email too.


To summarise - you really need to hold back with all the arguments that Wave isn't up to anything. We don't know yet if it will catch on. No one can say. We can say though that this is the first attempt to reinvent email in an open way (that I'm aware of) and I hope that it does catch on. If the speed can be worked on I think everything else will follow. I think you might find that you can be more productive on Wave than you ever have on email/service X/Y/Z that are all better than Wave. Think about the friction that you remove by consolidation to one service rather than across numerous. Different accounts for you to maintain and for your client to have. You have to say - What's your Skype name? etc.

Wave is new and it's different. We're all learning as we go. We're not going to be experts immediately. I know you are bleeding edge stuff Robert but it is going to take time before we understand how to use this thing or if it's useful. We can't make this on a snap basis. And it's not going to be because of one minor UI defect.


I'm sorry, it was the video (that was probably funded by Google itself) that made it sound like a new email system.

I know that for developers it is very cool. In both of my articles I give it that, and SocialWok shows the way here. It'll be interesting to see what you do with it.

This is exactly why it isn't like Gmail. With Gmail end users got the benefit immediately, even in early days. Here we have to wait for third-party developers to do something interesting with it. It's not ready for mass market without that added innovation and I'm not sure it will ever show up for the mass market. We'll see.


I apologize - I did not see the video earlier. I agree in that case -
Google's probably marketing this wrong. I think this is the wrong time to
market it as such - eventually, maybe, but not now. Right now we need to
open it up to the public, say, "hey, here it is, now play with it, figure
out what it is, and show us what you've built with it", rather than assuming
ahead of time what it is.


Look a bit on the history of that video. It was just created by a user who really wanted a wave invite. He did get one, and was contacted by Google in interests to create more videos, next about Chrome.

Edit: Here's some URLs to the guy who made it and the story of the video.


We're all just beginning to learn how to use wave. I think it's super cool how users have already crystallized into groups and are adding to the education of their peers as well as helping google to streamline wave itself.

As things stand now I estimate gwave to have less than a tenth of the functionality it will have in a years time. Apps are in their infancy and there's so much more Google plans to improve already.

Why are you so quick to smack down something that hasn't even been released to the public yet? Sure there may be some tools that do some of the jobs that gwave does but are they free? Do they all work together in the same UI?

I'm quite surprised at the stance you've taken particularly as you are considered one of the poster boys for early adoption. I've followed your lead more than once. But, respectfully, I just think your wrong this time.

Have you seen some of the apps and bots? Some of those things are wicked sweet. They're just tinker toys compared to what's coming. This is truly just the very tippy tippy top of the iceberg.


I am quick to smack because I always am. This is a real time world and you put stuff out there and then people say whether they like it or not.

I'm not always going to praise something just because it's new and geeky. You misunderstood that about me.

It's OK to disagree! We'll see where it goes.


I understand all your points but its a "beta". look at gmail or twitter in the early days and look at it now. i think google will improve it and bring it to the next level. just a matter of time. dont blame google for trying something new.


Sorry, that bird don't fly. I was on Gmail from the first day. It was a DRAMATIC improvement over what came earlier. Everyone got it immediately. People are having a lot of trouble "getting" Google Wave. This is NOT a dramatic improvement over what came before it. I don't blame Google for trying something new, but I do blame us for just hyping it up. If this came from a startup we'd all ignore it.


Ok, your points are well taken, the problem is, you apparently haven't been keeping up with the developer posts on the things you are talking about. Some of your big criticism are things they have already slated, but for what ever reason (probably haven't got some bugs worked out) they aren't live yet - but they have every intention of making them live before public release. Don't forget this is still a closed beta. Only about 100,000 invites went out. I know I signed up less than 3 weeks after it was unveiled at Google I/O but it still wasn't apparently soon enough to get an invite. (but I'll cry in my own soup). They've already gone on record saying that an app store (like for the Iphone) is very likely. They've also said that waves will eventually have the option to be opened up to non GW users. They've also admitted that their contact management is still skeletal, but looking at gmail, I expect that to change as well before release.

Like I said, your criticisms are well taken, the one thing that is keeping me hopeful is we're still at least a few months out before this thing opens are refinements will be happening fast a furious right up to that point. When you get down to it, the only reason they probably let this last hundred thousand or so in was simply to stress test their back end and see how it was going to hold up.


I think Scoble has some great points. Take a step back from the cool factor, and apply it to real world use. I really don't see Wave (at least this iteration) helping us much. What I would really like is a way to improve integration between the corporate and consumer environments. We all have 2 worlds to live and communicate in. While I do not want to work while I am at home, I do think consumers of the work I do should be able to communicate with me more effectively.


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Re: Scoble: Google Wave is worse than E-mail
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2009, 02:30 PM »
Insightful and interesting, thanx.

I got to say that in 2009 after years of spam and malware fight it is somewhat amazing to see 'All sorts of people have put stuff in my inbox already'. One thing that I think should have been perfected by now is the balance between collaboration and privacy, but we are still failing at that. If catching spam or closing accounts based on suspicious activity is our best shot then we haven't come as far enough as we should.