Google Wave

It’s “My” Design, but Will I Use It?

June 11, 2009

Did Google design Google Wave by watching customer behavior? If so, did they get it right? The behavior modeled in Google Wave is my behavior. But that doesn’t mean that what I’m doing is what I WANT to be doing!


I’m pretty sure that I’m responsible for the design of Google’s new Wave. I can’t take full credit. There are millions of Gmail/Google Chat users like me who no doubt provided the pattern on which Google’s new weird communications offering is based.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying out Wave. But thanks to early tester, Rafe Needleman’s Hands-on with Wave: Weird and quite wonderful, I recognized, right away that I was probably at least partly responsible for the breakthrough design pattern on which Wave is based.

My colleagues and I have been using Gmail as our primary corporate (and often personal) email platform for a couple of years now. Here’s how I use it. (This may sound familiar to a lot of you.) When I am interacting with colleagues about a current project or passion, I flip back and forth between emailing with them and chatting with them. Google’s presence awareness is good. I can tell whether someone is available. But often, I don’t launch a chat, I email them because I don’t want to interrupt their thought process and because it’s the kind of thing that may lead to a threaded discussion. I often forget to cc: others on my initial email. It’s just a “can you do this?” Or “what should we do about this?” or “what do you think about this?” or “here’s something I’d like you to look at” kind of communication. This dialog typically evolves into a real-time flurry of long, multiperson, threaded email discussions. Then it subsides, and we all go back to work.

So, when I read Rafe’s review, and realized that Wave blends chat and email and lets multiple people respond in real time within an email, that I realized how powerful and unsettling this is likely to be! Imagine beginning an email to a small group of colleagues, and, as you are on point 2, they are already chiming in on point 1 in the body of the text you are still writing. By the time you get to point 3, they are ferociously debating, and you jump up to get your refinements in. Here’s Rafe’s reaction:

“Speaking of being overwhelmed, the first time I had two people replying to me in an individual message at the same time, in different places in it, my head almost exploded. It’s a lot of raw information coming it at once, and it’s very different from the old e-mail or the instant message experience.”

I look forward, with some trepidation, to trying this out myself. I have no idea if I’ll be able to adapt to interacting in this way. But I DO feel responsible. I don’t know if Google’s Wave developers used customers’ interactions patterns to divine what it is we were really trying to do, but I suspect they did.

So, here’s the broader question to ponder: If you watch what your customers are doing and run around in front of the parade to design for what they’re already doing and attempting, does that mean they’ll use what you design? That’s certainly been one of my premises in customer-led innovation. It will be interesting to find out for myself!

Google Wave


Credit: Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

“Getting started in Wave: It looks a lot like e-mail...”




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