Google could’ve owned social

Google Wave is considered one of Google’s big failures today. It was bloated, had a crowded UI, suffered from feature creep, and, while it was online, it was pretty useless, since nobody was on it and it was hard to get invited.

And yet, if Google gave it a proper overhaul — drastically simplified, removed the UI oddities, and properly split Wave’s different aspects into several pages, it could have been the next communication platform. It’s open-source, decentralized, and includes enough features to meet a number of communication needs.

Messages (E-mail+Chat)

Did you know that the Google Wave founder left Google for Facebook? A little while later, Facebook Messages, a blend of chat and e-mail, appeared. It did essentially the same thing as Google Wave, except all the complexity was taken out and focus was put on one thing — simple person-to-person communication. And it was a huge success.

Due to its decentralized nature, Google Wave could have made “messages” universal. Messages would sooner or later become a communication standard, outplacing e-mail and making closed communication platforms like Facebook Messages or Apple’s iMessage irrelevant, since it’s just superior technology to e-mail. And for those still clinging to their e-mail accounts, messages could be sent as e-mails and vice versa.


One of the most important features of Wave was the “embedded wave” — a wave websites could bundle as their comment field or a feedback box. Imagine having a decentralized, open-source alternative to Disqus, Livefyre, etc. that you don’t even have to create a special account for. Even better — you get replies to the comments you’ve made anywhere on the internet under your account right on your Wave client, hopefully fit and snugly within its own special section instead of intermingled with your serious messages.

Google+ base

If Google+ was decentralized, it would rock so much more than it currently does. And an easy way to decentralize it would be to simply take Google Wave and tweak it a little. You’d no longer have to choose between having a closed, restrictive social network with your friends and your grandma on it (Facebook, Google+) and an open, decentralized network with few people and little activity (Diaspora).


Since you’d have all your communication tied to one place and one wave account (whatever wave provider you chose to go with), you’d only need to manage a single set of contacts. That would make sharing/privacy settings so much simpler. Not only that — if done correctly, it would open other services to these settings. So, for example, you could tell Ubuntu One that you’d like to share your files only with people from your “Work” circle even though Google would actually host your contacts.

Online freedom

Now that we’d have a single decentralized communication and contact system, the rest follows. The user would be in control of his data on the net. He wouldn’t be forced to use his real name, he wouldn’t be tied to a single host, he wouldn’t be coaxed into having a public profile, and he could have as many accounts as he’d like.

How does this help Google?

It helps the open web. Frankly, right now, Google could care less who hosts the communication platform. It’s not making any money on Google+ — it doesn’t even have advertising on it yet. All it’s doing is trying to divert people from Facebook, which is becoming the new way people discover things, the new place where people spend time, and is eating at Google’s business. And Google is still the biggest online advertising provider, so it’s likely that a number of wave hosts would put Google’s ads on their sites to make money.

Making the clipboard usable

When I was a kid, I didn’t know what the icon with the scissors did. I didn’t know what the icon with the two papers did. Even after I learned what copying and pasting is, even after I knew the common “Ctrl+C”, “Ctrl+X”, and “Ctrl+V” shortcuts, I still didn’t know what those scissor and paper icons did. I once mistook the scissor icon for the “Crop” button and was surprised when the whole image disappeared.

I wonder if anyone out there ever found the two clipboard icons intuitive. What do scissors have to do with the clipboard, anyway?

Being a stickler for consistency and clarity, I set out to make a more usable set of clipboard icons. My goal was to connect the clipboard icons visually, so that anyone could quickly tell that the icons belong together. I also wanted to make the functionality obvious: I used the standard “move” and “copy” symbols, as cutting is simply moving to the clipboard and copying is copying to the clipboard.

Can you tell which one is Cut and which one is Copy?

Notice Google Docs’ New Style Management?

I’ve just noticed a revamped style drop-down in Google Docs. Apparently, it’s been there since February 7th. It makes customizing styles simple, plus it gives a preview of the style (font, bold, italic, underline, and size up to a certain limit).

It’s probably the best style gallery that’s out there to date. If only it weren’t so limited…

Go check it out. 🙂

Looking for an icon designer

The LibreOffice design team is looking for an experienced icon designer to oversee an effort to create a flat icon set for LibreOffice. The designer wouldn’t have to create any icons (although he would be more than welcome to), he would simply help craft guidelines and act as a mentor and a guide for inexperienced icon designers wanting to contribute.

Would anyone be interested in taking on this role?

There’s no pay, although if a designer wanted some monetary compensation, we could start a Kickstarter project.

Making styling easy as π

When talking about UI reform, the thing I hear most is that hard formatting needs to die and everyone needs to be forced to use styles. While I don’t think hard formatting should be abandoned completely, I do think that styles are an underused feature. And it’s underused because it’s a hassle to use. Creating styles is hard, editing styles is hard, and even applying styles takes a considerable while longer than simply hitting that “bold” button up at the top.

So here’s my attempt at making styles simpler. It’s a series of mockups for the tablet, but it would work the same way on the desktop.

The style list is drastically slimmed down. Only the first member of ordered groups of styles (like Headings) is shown until that member is used in the document — e.g. once you use “Heading 1”, the list will also show “Heading 2”, and once you use “Heading 2”, the list will also show “Heading 3”, etc. The list is also shorter because paragraph and character styles have separate drop-down menus.

Adding styles and editing them is done right within the menu — there’s a toolbar up at the top. Pushing edit shows all the included styles:

Within the style editing dialog, there’s a “Pin” button and a text box for a textual icon. When pinned, this icon ends up in the style bar, a toolbar for pinned styles that floats above a selection. It makes getting to commonly-used styles easy, easier than to Bold or Italic with a mouse, because a mouse has to cover less distance to reach these style buttons:

Looking forward to feedback. :~)

Why we still need Wave

Observing how people have been slowly abandoning e-mail and moving to closed communication systems that merge the features of chat and e-mail — Facebook’s Messages, Apple’s iMessage, and even social network posts (though these were designed for a different purpose).

I really hope that an open-source alternative that seeks to define a single message standard arises soon — something like Google’s Wave, only less complex and with a better UI.

Anyone in the FLOSS community interested in reviving the project?