Why Google Wave Doesn't Quite Work For Conference Notes

It's no surprise that when Google decided to host a "miniconf" about Google Wave at linux.conf.au, company staff encouraged the use of Wave itself to take notes on the sessions. But while there's a lot to recommend Wave for this process, there's one big reason why it's not yet up to the task.

Many of the Lifehacker US team are seriously enamoured with Wave, but yesterday's session was the first time that I've sat down and used Wave for an extended period in a serious work environment (as opposed to the tinkering everyone does when they first get an invitation). And my big lesson from the experience? When Google says Wave is a beta, it's no exaggeration. Stability is definitely low on the list of priorities right now. It's impressive to see multiple people typing notes and correcting each other's work, but that's seriously tempered by the lack of reliability.

For most of the day, I was watching conference waves rather than actively participating in them, yet I still lost track of the number of times I had to reload a given wave or the entire page because a given wave had been corrupted, stopped working or had lost all its links. The most dramatic crashes are called 'shinies' by the Google team, because they produce the toe-curdlingly cute error message seen at the top of the page. (As with Firefox, I'd rather the cute was cut altogether.)

Wave is designed to support a wide range of media types, but to be honest this is overkill in most conference environments, where plain text and URLs are all you're likely to see most of the time. A handful of videos got embedded in the Wave notes yesterday, but the main effect of that was to consume a lot more bandwidth every time the videos started reloading after yet another crash. Flinging those off onto a separate wavelet might have eased that problem, but would have taken time away from note-taking within Wave itself.

Overall, while I can see the potential, Wave is going to need to be a lot more stable before I could imagine using it in this context, especially if a lot of money had been spent to get to the conference in the first place. An improved range of extensions would help, as would a move towards multiple independent Wave providers. Both are on the horizon, but neither are here now.

So what are the easy, free alternatives? If you're only taking notes for yourself, then clearly any word processor or text editor will do. If you do want to build a collaborative picture, then using Twitter and adding an appropriate hashtag is an option, albeit one that's likely to feature a lot of repetition. (Twitter's also possibly the friendliest option if you're taking notes on a smart phone.)

What are your own preferred ways to build conference notes? Tell us in the comments.

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    If you don't mind me asking, which browser+OS are you using that sees this? On the bleeding edge chrome channel, a shiny is a rare thing for me. I'm curious what you're seeing the instability on...


      Firefox on Windows. The Google team on the ground asked me the same question, and noted that it was easier to get browser fixes pushed through to the Chrome team -- but given relative market shares, getting it to work on Firefox obviously needs to be an important priority.

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