I had an opportunity to try and use Google Wave "for real" on a project, but what a disappointing experience! It might have been tough for any product to live up to their revolutionary pre-launch buzz, but Wave appear to lack very basic features that any collaborative online tool must have.
First and most obvious, it's stunning that Wave offered no alert feature. Collaboration software is of little value if you have to click a bookmark and pull it back to your browser to see if there are updates. Clearly Wave was not optimized for asynchronous communication, which is the strength of email. Now it appears Wave finally will get email notification.
The features that did make it for launch are sometimes questionable. Seeing others type in real time seems of narrow utility, and even though I'm a reasonably good typist, I feel self-conscious knowing I'm being observed. It's also difficult to find the latest updates in a multithreaded Wave. It requires much scrolling … and by the way, what's up with that wacky scroll widget? Do users need a new way to scroll as much as they need email alerts of new messages?
It's possible some of these doubtful feature decisions result from the product development process. A team in Australia built Wave, isolated from the Google mothership. This startup-in-a-bottle model is popular in large companies that want to remain entrepreneurial. When launching a new Google product, though, it's natural to expect it will work well with one's Google account. Whether it's the development team's isolation or some other factors at play, Google Wave has no integration with Google Accounts or any other of the company's online services.
Bloggers and journalists bitten by the promise of revolution pushed back against Wave in the early days. Now, however, the Web hype machine has moved on and Wave has no buzz at all. Time will tell if Google can add enough features to make the product useful and usable.
Wave's poor feature set, along with recent privacy missteps in the launch of Buzz, make Google suddenly seem vulnerable for the first time in years. Whether they mine their massive store of user data to assemble a product like Buzz, or they build a new system separate from everything as in Wave, Google need solid information on user behavior and needs to guide their decisionmaking. Without it, the giant company risks becoming inscrutable and remote from consumer end users -- just like Microsoft, in other words.