Ride the Wave! Hands-On With Google Wave Preview

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Back in late May, Google unveiled an early developer preview of a new “online tool for real-time communication and collaboration.” Google Wave merges message boards, e-mail, social-networking, wikis, and instant messaging- with drag and drop document sharing and live transmission to boot. Live transmission means that every character you type will instantly appear to other participants of a wave thread.

I’ve been using Google Wave for the past few days and while the interface sports a slick and nicely animated polish that I can assume we will eventually see in other Google products like Gmail, it is still clearly a work in progress. For example, I quickly found out the embarrassing way that you cannot yet remove contacts from a wave once they have been added. Sorry to those who I accidently added to my test threads. I don’t actually want you to give me any “bean soup.”

Speaking of which, the phrase “Can I borrow some bean soup” was used in the Google Wave introduction video to demonstrate context-driven, on-the-fly spellchecking. While it did accurately correct “been soup” to “bean soup” as promised, spellchecking isn’t yet as speedy or accurate as I’m sure it will be in the finished product.

One of the most exciting features of Wave that does work great is Playback. With Playback, you can step through a complicated message tree chronologically, so additions and edits appear as they were submitted. This is particularly useful to a late-comer in a conversation or for reviewing a long, branching thread.

In true Google fashion, Wave is cross-platform (including mobile), open source, and extremely extensible with Google Wave API’s. There are already several great add-ons, including extensions for video teleconferencing, Twitter integration, and of course collaborative games, such as Sudoku. Shiny!

Regarding Wave’s mobile integration, I tried my luck with iPhone’s Safari. Skipping the warning that my browser is not yet supported reveals a pretty decent, though sluggish and slightly incomplete mobile interface. It’s definitely not as slick as the desktop interface; still, I was able to view and post waves like a charm, which was enough to get me excited for the future of the product.

On September 30, Google released 100,000 public invites to Wave. If you didn’t already get one, you can sign up for the next round of invitations here. I know you’re anxious, but if you don’t get an invite right away, don’t fret- much like Gmail, more invitations will be released as Wave matures and is more suited for public use. Of course, there’s always eBay

Watch the loooong introduction video.

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