RedEye Chicago and Google Wave: Interview with Stephanie Yiu

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 17 August 2010

Over the last few days I've made a couple of blog posts about the demise of Google Wave, and what the news industry could learn from the tool itself, and from the way Google handled the launch and failure of Wave as a product. Two newspapers in particular were very early public adopters of Google Wave - Welt Kompakt in Germany, and RedEye in Chicago. Stephanie Yiu, who recently left RedEye, very kindly agreed to answer a few questions I had about how they used Wave, and what they learned from it.

Martin Belam: From looking through the Waves you did, they seemed to be more like a chat environment where staff could mix with readers rather than a live blogging or reporting tool. Would that be a fair assessment?

Stephanie Yiu: The RedEye newspaper is all about building community and getting readers to interact with each other. We created a Daily Google Wave every weekday at 10:30 a.m. to live chat with readers about our cover stories, and extend the life of our print paper.

Martin Belam: For me, one of the big problems with Wave was the lack of notifications into other systems i.e. emails when something new happened - how did you arrange the workflow to keep an active participation in the Wave from the paper's side?

Stephanie Yiu: Our waves had a clear lifespan: They would start at 10:30 a.m. and end at 11. After that, our readers could continue using it, but they knew that we would start a new wave the next day. We are also always around on Twitter and Facebook if readers are looking for us.

Martin Belam: From my searches on the service, you seem to have stopped doing them at the end of March. Is that right? Can I ask what made you stop doing them?

Stephanie Yiu: Here's what I wrote in April when we stopped using the wave:

1. Not everyone has access to it, nor do most people care to get access.
We try to reach as many readers as possible, and wave limits access. Over the last few months we've had fewer and fewer people join us every day. This doesn't fit our goal of trying to reach as many readers as possible.

2. It's slow
I love that Wave allows for several threads to run simultaneously, but the trade-off is that it is really, really slow. Typing in wave is like typing underwater. It is hard to reply to comments in real-time when it takes about 10 seconds for your words to appear on the screen.

3. It's unstable
I'd say that at least 2 or 3 times a week I've had to restart a crashed wave. But what's even worse is that is is really hard to link to an individual public wave. And a lot of times our link fails -- which means that no one can find the wave. And finally, waves can become "unsynced", which means that you will be typing in a lengthy response... and as it "syncs", it wipes out your work. It's pretty frustrating.

4. We get attacked
Hey, those bots and apps are amazing, but we've had spam bots try to destroy our waves before. They show up in the middle of a conversation, insult everyone and then chew up the wave using a bot. That is enormously frustrating.

5. We weren't using it right
Having a Daily Google Wave to discuss topics allowed us to host live simultaneous conversations at once, include maps, polls, etc. There is no other tool that allows us to do that. But mostly, wave should be used for a small audience, collaborating on a document. (We've tried collaborating on lists in wave, but with too many people it gets pretty impossible).

Martin Belam: I think one of the reasons we find it hard to innovate in the news industry is that about 98% of news is about pointing out how someone, something or some system failed in some way, therefore we are instinctively risk and failure adverse. There will be a lot of people, with the benefit of hindsight, painting Wave as an obvious product failure you could see coming a mile off. You tried to innovate with it. What were the positives for you?

Stephanie Yiu: RedEye experiments a lot. We've done Foursquare races, we've done virtual cooking contests, we have a social media posse. Wave was just another way for us to experiment - and it was a great example of learning on the fly - testing something out and then dropping it when we figured out that it wasn't going to work for us. I'm really glad we tried it out for a few months. It gets our readers used to expecting change and experimentation from us.

Martin Belam: Welt Kompakt and RedEye got a lot of publicity out of announcing and doing public Waves, was it worth doing from that point of view alone?

Stephanie Yiu: Sure, I think it was. But the best part was that we got to meet lots of new readers using it, and even after we dropped the Daily Wave, we continued interacting with those readers - they were inducted into "RedEye Royalty" which is our newspaper's "social media posse".

Keep up to date on my new blog