Google Wave Versus the Rest, Feature by Feature

January 18, 2010

Got a great response to last week's frequently asked questions about Google Wave, and it's worth expanding further on the differences between Wave and the current crop of web-based collaboration offerings.

Wave combines features from email, instant messenger, Google Docs, wikis, and forums and throws its own spin on things. For a quick visual of its offerings versus similar tools, check out this feature-by-feature comparison.

Feature Email Instant Messenger Google Docs Wikis Forums Wave

A single, hosted copy of a conversation or document No Not usually Yes Yes Yes Yes
The ability to see when contacts are online No Yes Yes No No

Instant messaging or chat, with no-refresh updates No Yes Yes No No Yes
Keystroke-by-keystroke live updates with multiple visible cursors No Some services No No

No Yes
Simultaneous editing of one document by multiple collaborators No No Yes Yes No Yes
Edit rights to other participants' contributions No No Yes

Yes No Yes
The ability to see, compare, and restore past versions No No Yes Yes No Yes
Interactive maps, videos, polls and other widgets Not really No

Some Some No Yes
Inline replies and threaded conversations Manually No No No Some Yes
Ability to easily publish the conversation or document No

No Yes Yes No To other Wave users
User access permissions (read-only or edit) N/A N/A Yes Some N/A Yes
Ability to easily link documents to each other No No No Yes No Yes
Ability to export the finished document to a file No No Yes Manually No No

You'll notice that Wave doesn't have a green yes in every cell in its column; it's still missing functionality that's holding it back from being a viable alternative in a production environment--specifically, user permissions (everyone can edit everything) and the ability to export a wave or publish it so that anyone can see its contents (not just folks logged into Wave).

This table is slated to go into chapter 1 of the first edition of The Complete Guide to Google Wave, so give me a shout if you've got ideas for how to polish it up before we boot up the printers.

Update, January 21st: Changed Wave's user access permissions column to reflect the newly-announced feature.

This is totally awesome, Gina. I’ll be sending everyone here (and then to your book) when they ask me 6 million questions about comparing Wave to other forms of communication. This is both clear and succinct.

technotheory [+11]
Jan 18 10 at 12:37 pm

Just wonderful, Gina. You’re an expert at clarifying complicated topics. Have you ever considered being a teacher?

Ian Anderson [+2]
Jan 18 10 at 12:48 pm

While it’s not a software feature per se, the other advantage some collaboration tools have is the ability to host your own (possibly customized) instance. Think Intellipedia. Obviously some organizations aren’t going to be OK with putting their proprietary information into the Google cloud.

Jan 18 10 at 1:17 pm

Awesome. This is a good chart that (might) help people understand Wave… maybe…

I did want to add, though, that GDocs does have revision control built in… though, to be fair, it’s not as advanced as Wave, so far as I can tell. You can access it through File > See Revision History.

I hope this helps!

Tim Lindvall
Jan 18 10 at 1:28 pm

Thanks everyone!

@Tim: THANKS for that. Exactly the kind of fact-checking I was hoping for! I’ll update the chart.

Gina Trapani [+195]
Jan 18 10 at 1:53 pm

Awesome idea Gina. This is a very good chart to compare a lot of things.

One thing I did notice is that some forums do allow you to see if other people are online, but it is a very rare feature. I couldn’t find an example for you, but I am 100% sure that some forums do have this feature. You might want to put “Rare” instead of “Some” in that column because of the rarity of this feature.

I hope that helps!

Jan 18 10 at 2:47 pm

You forgot about facebook though..
should be like this but i’m probably mistaken: yes,yes,yes,no,no,yes,yes,yes,yes,yes,yes,no
and the most important: all your friends use it already

Vrok Olos
Jan 18 10 at 3:07 pm

I have worked with several forums and Wikis and products alike. Things stated are just incorrect. I can write a long story but will just keep it short. Let’s just take one forum solution I have used several times PHPBB.

The ability to see when contacts are online – Yes one simple plug-in

Instant messaging or chat, with no-refresh update, yes you can push that and even wave has a refresh on their end.

Interactive maps, videos, polls and other widgets, no problem, lots of tools for that available

Ability to easily publish the conversation or document, no problem in again as example in phpbb or any other cms

User access permissions (read-only or edit) – o boy, most forum and cms solutions are way more granular as Google wave is for this. I see that as a big lacking point of Google wave.

Ability to easily link documents to each other – no problem, just link to the other post.

And yes I am biased, but have did give it a honest try.


Jan 18 10 at 3:11 pm

One thing I’ve noticed when collaborating with a friend on a Wave is the lack of implicit structure or being able to edit the wave structure.

I can’t really label that “feature” or describe it very well, but I hope you get what I mean.

It can very quickly turn into a mess with replays to topics of the same “level” as subthreads to others. In a document or on a wiki I could move a section or a page. Of course I can edit a single message in Wave, but the structure of the conversation can still be very much messed up.


Pär Dahlberg
Jan 18 10 at 3:29 pm


-DO tell you when someone is online (at least SMF, IPB, and vB all do).
-May contain chatboxes or shoutboxes, can easily be setup by webmaster. Some are AJAX with no page refresh required.
-Nearly all forums have usergroups, and you can edit posts by any usergroup that is your level or below.
-Forums can easily have widgets added to them. It is very easy to setup a custom bbcode that allows users to add in these types of widgets just like wave has them.
-vBulletin 4 has just released a beta CMS, so you easily add in articles and other stuff. So this should be ‘Some’.
-In forums, you can easily link together groups, or well it’s not too hard to do anyways, but it is entirely possible. You can either setup topics with similar headers, or have differentiated sections for each forum.

Also you forgot about Etherpad, which many thousands of users DO use!

Here is my comparison to Office Web Docs which is currently in Beta (like Google Docs and Wave)…

Hope this formating comes out…

Microsoft Office Web Access

single, hosted copy of a conversation or document

ability to see when contacts are online

messaging or chat, with no-refresh updates

live updates with multiple visible cursors

editing of one document by multiple collaborators

rights to other participants’ contributions

ability to see and compare past versions

maps, videos, polls and other widgets

replies and threaded conversations

to easily publish the conversation or document

access permissions (read-only or edit)

to easily link documents to each other

to export the finished document to a file

Alan Burchill [+1]
Jan 18 10 at 7:46 pm

Awesome Gina. Good one. Keep up the great work. :)

I appreciate that the intent is to sell books, but isn’t this chart not making a fair comparison? It’s not being compared to other collaboration software, but instead ticking off all the things it can do.

I could draft a similar chart saying that my iPhone compares favorably to a phone, a media player, a GPS unit, a PDA, and a UMPC, but it would be hugely misleading to not mention Android Phones, the Pre, Symbian, etc etc. In that vein, the omission of Basecamp, Sharepoint, and so on give the false impression that Wave is unique in its class.

Zach [+2]
Jan 18 10 at 11:52 pm

I really hope that Wave will be adopted by many, but right now it doesn’t look that way. Basically it’s open now, because we all have invites left, but not many peoople are using it.

In the above list it looks a bit like you have listed all the functions of Wave and then compared them with other systems. Then it’s logical that Wave wins.

As for the last point: it is possible to make a bot that exports the wave. That’s what I think is the greatest feature of Wave: the ability to access the data through an api an build extensions.

A combination of etherpad and notepub gives you a yes in all columns.

The way I use this is by inserting links to pages in etherpad from notes in notepub.

Jose Ripalda
Jan 19 10 at 7:18 am

Hey all–just to clarify again:

The purpose of this chart is to explain Google Wave in terms of its similarities and differences from existing group collaboration offerings. It is by no means complete. For space reasons, I left out a LOT of issues, like federation, extensions, mobile, add-ons, details of how different things are handled. Again, this is meant to be a broad, at-a-glance overview.

In general if something required an external add-on, I didn’t consider that a feature of the product or type of product. I realize that comparing types of products (forums, wikis) against specific products (Google Docs, Wave) is apples-to-oranges, but again, this is a BROAD overview. I don’t feel that a particular wiki or forum product can represent the entire genre the way Google Docs represents web-based office suites. I didn’t have the space to get into the nitty gritty of one forum or wiki product over another. THAT chart would have been monstrous.

So, yes, I made a few generalizations here both in and not in Wave’s favor. (For example, there is a Wave bot that exports blips, but IMO it sucks, so I didn’t give Wave a “yes” for exporting documents.)

Again, this chart is for the purpose of illustrating to readers of a book about Wave how Wave compares to similar types of products. My apologies for having to generalize a bit for the sake of space.

Gina Trapani [+195]
Jan 19 10 at 1:47 pm

If you want to compare it to other colobration products you should defenitly include Office Web Access and SharePoint 2010 Foundations server… These are the similar offereing from Microsoft. Office Web Access is the free web based version for the Internet and SharePoint Foundations Server is the inhouse corporate version… Both run in a web browser and offer similar functionality to Google Docs & Wave.

If you are going to do a comparison leaving out Microsoft’s would be a big ommision.

Alan Burchill [+1]
Jan 19 10 at 8:59 pm

Google should probably hire you for PR/Marketing. ;)

Judging by the pitiful stats that Wave is getting (there’s some hitwise stats recently that show Wave is swiftly becoming as big of a flop as the Nexus One’s week one sales), they could use someone on staff who can actually explain what this platform can do.

Of course, this is because Google almost exclusively hires codemonkey engineers.

That’s great for their software & systems work, but it means that they consistently fail at things where they’re required to interface with “real” people (i.e. customer service, and PR/Marketing — again, the Nexus One fail is a good example).

Dan Sargent
Jan 25 10 at 8:12 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!