So you've got Google Wave. Now what?

A Google Wave invite may have been a hot eBay commodity, but what do you do with it once you get it?

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    Google Wave for the Declaration of Independence? Google's trying to convince users that Wave is useful – is it succeeding?
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It's not even Thanksgiving, but many around the Web may be excused for having that Christmas morning feeling – their Google Wave invite has arrived!

Google had promised this, of course.

The company sent out 100,000 of the golden tickets at the end of September. Yet many, try as they might (even on eBay), couldn't get their hands on one. But, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed in a chat with reporters in Cambridge, Mass. earlier this month, more were on the way. He said that Google was "getting ready for a broader distribution very soon – weeks, not months."

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We here at Horizons were the recipients of a few invitations this week, and, though they're no "Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time," we were pretty excited. After all the hype (we contributed, too) the whole Web was pretty stoked. Who wouldn't want to use "what email would look like if it were designed today"?

Now what?

The thing is, what does one do with a Google Wave invite? The service feels like it should come with that classic Christmas-morning caveat: batteries not included. Well, not batteries so much as other users. Part (or even all) of Wave's appeal is its ability to bring multiple users together in collaborative conversation – eschewing email, IMs, and other "that's-so-20th-century" forms of electronic communication.

When Google demonstrated Wave, it did so with a gaggle of Googlers. The company's demo guinea pigs understood what Wave could do, and thus didn't suffer the average user's most common complaint: 'Who do I talk to?' The exclusivity of the invite process not only made access next to impossible for the mere mortal, it made it so the average anointed Wave invitee had no one to try out the product's vaunted features with. As Frank Sinatra sang:

It's like singin' to empty tables
Or a gallery full of ghosts
Or like givin' a great big party
Where nobody shows but the host

Google, seeing the problem, has tried to demonstrate what its new toy can do. It hosts a number of video tutorials on the Wave site, suggesting that users employ Wave for meetings, brainstorming sessions, and the like. And TechCrunch pointed to a wave posted by the Google team that shows what the writing of the Declaration of Independence might have looked like, had it been composed in Google Wave. (Wave users can click here to see what we mean. The rest of you ... Sorry!)

Wave's problem

We consider ourselves pretty tech savvy folk here at Horizons, but none of these demos really seemed to change the fact that, for now, Google Wave is pretty unusable. Here's the problem: It's not just a new email or IM client; it's a complete paradigm shift. We can create test waves, exchanging "hey, I got Wave! You too?" messages. We can drop in maps, mess around with playback, and make friends' days by sending them Wave invites. But, um, that's about it.

One friend who was the recent recipient of a Wave invite asked a seemingly innocuous question (on GChat, not Wave):

i don't think i understand google wave
can i access my gmail from it?

Now, some might laugh. But this isn't some tech novice. She isn't still trying to use rabbit ears to get analog TV stations. For her and many who may have heard of it, Wave just doesn't compute. GMail computes. For her and many others, email makes sense – it's where they live. Work, school, friends – they all send email. Who sends waves?

What's Google to do?

A Twitter friend wrote this morning: "to be honest, google wave has that same hype about it atari operating system had ... So September 2009 people will say."

Right now, Wave is riding the tail-end of a surge of buzz that began back in September. If Wave is to catch on, it needs wide – make that wiiiiiide – distribution. Asked why Google had been so protective of its Wave invites,  Schmidt stressed that the company wanted to make sure the product would scale gracefully before expanding it to a wider audience. If, in fact, it has handled its ever-growing sandbox well, it's time for Google to open Wave to everyone.

Wave requires a monumental shift in the way people think about online communication. Even though it beats email, IM, and the chat rooms of old with its slick features, it's of no use to anyone if people have to go out of their way – or worse, explain it to other people – to use it.

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Got Google Wave? Tell us about your experiences on Twitter – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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