Probably the most important part of the Wave experience for new user has been the ability to search for public waves to join. Without Public Waves many people would not have enough of a network to really experience Wave in full, and the Wave community may not have grown as quickly as it has. Public Waves have allowed quick access to tips and tricks, unofficial support and general chit chat on a diverse range of topics.
The downside of this was a significant gotcha: just clicking a public wave was enough to add you to the Wave permanently and drag the wave into your inbox. From that point, your only recourse to silence the wave was to mute it (archiving only works as long as no one else contributes), and muting does not remove you from the wave.
The inability to remove yourself from a wave you have participated in is an accounting feature I guess. When the development team finally gives us the ability to remove ourselves, we still need to know which waves we have participated in.
But back to the sticky business of autofollowing public waves. What it meant was the risk of associating with Waves you never meant to follow. A misplaced click (very easy in the fast-flowing river of public waves) meant a new wave in your inbox and your face on the top of a wave. For example, clicking a wave called “I hate my boss” immediately associated you with that wave!
Today Google have rolled out a new feature to fix this. Two new buttons now let you Follow and Unfollow a wave. When you click on an interesting public wave, you are no longer added automatically. Once you click off that wave, it will disappear into the stream and you will have no further part in it. To monitor it in your inbox/folder structure, you can now choose to follow it (using the Follow button of course), and it will move into your inbox, where you can treat it like any other wave you are in. You can move it to folders, searches will include it and it will behave like a normal wave with one key difference: you will not appear in the list of wave users at the top.
This makes a huge difference, and means that public waves now take on a sort of social networking aspect, as you can follow the information and people who interest you without being directly involved (sort of like feed readers or Twitter lists). It also improves the user experience by making public waves something you have to explicitly choose to have in your inbox.
To remove a wave from your inbox, you can simply click Unfollow and the wave will disappear as though it was never there.
Keep in mind though that the public wave behaves as it used to the second you edit it. As soon as you create or edit a blip, the wave will add you as a participant and the wave will appear in your inbox as though you had followed the wave. This makes perfect sense, as participation triggers all the accounting measures that must keep track of who made what changes. Unfollow will not remove you from the wave, it will merely be archived from view (the old Mute function).
All in all these changes are a welcome fix to one of the most vexing problems of the initial release. I look forward to seeing the other improvements as Google Wave develops!