Google Wave, the maddeningly confusing yet highly innovative real-time collaboration tool, will become a member of Google's online office suite Google Apps later this year. The service, still in closed beta, is meant to be a modern-day revamp of email - what email would be if it was invented in 2009 instead of the 1960's. Yet the interface, a mashup of email, chat, and collaborative document editing, left many early adopters with mixed feelings about the product...at least in its current form. Called "unproductive," "complex," and "overwhelming" by the same people who usually embrace new technologies, it seems an odd choice to add the still-developing Wave service to the Google Apps line-up at this time. But Google has confirmed they will do exactly that.

As mentioned in a blog post late last year, Google is now preparing to roll out Wave to Google Apps customers along with the VoIP service Google Voice and 200 other improvements and updates to their current suite of office tools.

Google Wave: Innovative, Confusing

The technologies at the core of Google Wave are impressive. With an HTML5-enabled interface and real-time protocols for instant interaction, Wave was highly anticipated among tech enthusiasts prior to its launch. However, once beta testers gained access to the redesigned inbox experience delivered by Wave, the results were those of confusion, feelings of being overwhelmed and apparently, eventual abandonment.

That's not to say Google Wave is a failure. The service is just a little too raw right now for everyday use by a majority of internet users. The problem with Wave stems from its overcrowded inbox of "waves" - threads of conversation updated in real-time. Within a wave, users can have IM-like chats, share and edit documents, and even "replay" a wave to see a history of the changes made. At launch time, anyone using the service could add any other user to a wave - even if that other user had no interest in participating. This led to an inbox filled with waves, only some of which may have been relevant or interesting. In addition, communicating in real-time, while nice for IM, may not be as productive when attempting to share the sort of longer thoughts and instructions typically sent out via email. 

There are ways Wave could be streamlined for better ease-of-use, though. Whitelisting and blacklisting tools could lock down waves to invited participants only and better filtering mechanisms could help high-priority waves rank higher than others. Not all of these tools are available yet in the current version of the product, though, and some may never be.

Google Apps Users to Become Beta Testers?

Google is also investigating how to integrate some of Wave's features into their other products. According to Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard, the company is "trying to learn and see what sort of use cases evolve from it and how it changes." Yet even he admitted that Wave is "not nearly at the level of understanding and readiness of the core Google Apps services."

So why is Google rushing to roll it out this year? The answer may be that Google simply wants a larger test bed to help them generate ideas for improving the service. Although we've highlighted several use cases for Wave in the past, a good many people still say they don't see the need for it. But all the effort and development that went into building a product like Wave isn't likely something Google wants to abandon so soon.