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Way Too Much Information December 2, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Technology.
Tags: , ,

I received an invitation to Google Wave a few weeks ago.  I was anxious to try it, but got little traction.  Since then, a few more friends have joined, and I’ve been able to experiment a little bit.  The jury is still out on the ultimate usefulness of the tool, but there is one “feature” that gives me pause.

If several people are actively participating in a conversation, the Wave interface actually shows their typing, in real time.  This is the next logical extension of existing instant messaging platforms, which note when another party is actually typing.  This was a handy feature, since it let you know if the person at the other end was actively participating.  Wave’s extension, on the other hand, is unnerving.

Very few people, myself included, write complete, rational thoughts on the first try.  Instead, we type, think, delete, edit, retype, and iterate until we have composed a complete message.  We often start out with something that we later contradict, or use a word or tone that we might regret and subsequently remove.  The end product represents a finished thought.

Google Wave exposes that entire process.  It is weird, and a bit voyeuristic, to watch someone in the act of composition.  In one conversation, I actually began responding to a person’s message, only to have them edit and change it before after I had posted my now-inappropriate response.  My response made no sense, and they knew I had been privy to a thought they later chose to retract.

It should be obvious by now that I am a big fan of all these new-fangled communications tools.  I like the idea of being instantly connected, and I enjoy the immediacy of keeping up with other people.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn: I get it, and I use it.

But this crosses a line.  I am happy to share what I am doing, but I am not willing to expose my actual thought processes before they are fully formed.  Rapid communication is fine, but at some point there are aspects of what I am doing that I absolutely do not want to share.

I suspect that the folks at Wave did not set out to design a “thought exposure” feature.  Instead, I suspect they think that this is just a cooler way of showing that the other parties are typing and interacting.  I’m hoping that they’ll see the error of their ways and at least let me turn this feature off.

The whole experience reminded me of a scene from the show Married… With Children. Peg Bundy and her long-suffering husband Al are sitting silently on the couch.  Peg finally tries to break the ice by asking, “Al, what are you thinking?”  Al, speaking on behalf of every man on earth, replies, “If I wanted you to know, I’d be talking.”

Google, if I want people to know what I’m thinking, I’ll click “Done.” Until then, I’ll keep my keystrokes to myself.

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1. John Baker - December 2, 2009

I am still getting used to Wave and am trying to understand how it can be applied usefully for variety of activities. I do not mind people seeing me composing and changing my mind on an idea but it is difficult to follow someone else’s train of thought PLUS that problem of responding to someones text to see it vanish and then having the dialog get out of phase are problems for me.
One night I participated in a public wave with a dozen participants. I had started with one person that I knew and we were doing the familiar IM back and forth when strangers started dropping into the wave and joining the conversation. It started to become more of a chat room on steroids. I found it difficult to keep track of what was going on since parallel conversations were taking place and people were amending/editing parts of the wave upstream of where I was. Whew!
We are used to a set of protocols (Twitter, IM, email, blogs etc) and Wave combines these in weird ways.
I would like to see small teams collaborating within and without a company using Wave on a project as a real test.
By the way here is a good book on Wave http://completewaveguide.com/
And if anyone wants to connect with me in the Wave I am john.mc.baker@googlewave.com

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