After the high-profile announcement of Google Wave in May things were pretty silent. Up until now that is, because last week Google invited a first batch of 100.000 users to join their new real-time communication- and collaboration-platform. I wasn’t one of the lucky 100.000, but a friend of mine already had access to the developer sandbox and I had the chance to play around with that preview-version of Wave for an hour.
Now off course the developer sandbox is not the best place to get to know Wave, as it contains a tsunami of information from the dev-channel. Moreover you’re kind of missing the point if you’re playing around in a communication- and collaboration-platform where you don’t know anyone, aren’t you? Anyhow, I did get a feel of the platform and indeed Wave is an impressive effort to redefine online communication and collaboration. It’s like a combination of the best ideas in e-mail, usenet (the threaded conversations) and irc (real-time communication) in one environment (i.e. the Wave web-client). But the realtime updates and collaboration also give it a Twitter and -even more- a Facebook feel. Wave seems to be all of that, with the potential to become even more.
But as consequence of all that richness, the interface is very complicated, with a lot of info and functionality competing for your attention. On my 1280X800 laptop screen everything looked as if it was squeezed in using brute force, in some cases resulting in overlapping text and other small layout-issues. Maximizing a wave to use the entire Wave-desktop and switching my browser to full-screen mode seemed to solve that problem, but the Wave-developers probably don’t run into such problems, having nice large high-resolution screens while coding?
I guess the Rasmussen brothers not only enjoy working on large screens, their computers are bound to also have a better-than-broadband network-connection to the Wave-servers and -even more importantly- a huge amount of memory. While testing the Wave web application on my 2Gb laptop it was horribly slow to render and update on occasions. I tried Wave in Firefox 3.5.3 (both on Windows XP sp3 and Ubuntu 8.04) and in Chrome 188.8.131.52. The amount of data being pulled from the internet is intimidating, but the effect it has on browser memory usage is simply frightening! While testing I have seen both Firefox and Chrome use between 0.5 and 1Gb of memory, of which at a certain point in time 800Mb were used by the tab containing Wave!
I don’t know about you, but in my book this means that Wave is de facto unusable. According to an article on Webmonkey, Google is aware of this problem as well and hopes to work around some of the biggest issues:
“Latency is an obsession of ours,” says Rasmussen.
Some limitations within the browser are keeping Wave from running as quickly as he wants. When a Wave becomes long, for example, it can take awhile to open it. The team is working on a pre-loading system where you don’t have to load the whole Wave to start reading it or adding to it, just the first couple of pages. Then as you scroll, it keeps loading, speeding things up.
Another hang-up, one typical of young web applications, is that Wave slows down after you’ve used it for a few hours. This is due to memory leaks, and refreshing the browser page or restarting the browser solves it. But plugging those holes so browser refreshes aren’t necessary is the obvious goal.
During my tests I noticed some other small bugs as well. I never succeeded in replaying a wave (a nice feature to see how a conversation evolved over time) for example. Inserting or displaying a gadget in a wave never seemed to work either.
Not withstanding these little big problems, I’m looking forward to be able to test the “normal” preview version that just got launched. I’m pretty sure it won’t suffer from the skyrocketing memory-usage issue to the same extent, largely due to the fact that the amount of information in there will be a lot less (not as much waves, not as much wavelets in waves). Now if only Google would turn my nomination into an invitation?