Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wave New World: Executive Summary of Google's New Ambitious Product

What might email look like if it were invented today?
By Chris Pantages, SEO Expert

During its I/O event, Google introduced its answer to that question, Google Wave. Wave is an extraordinarily ambitious communication and collaboration tool. Wave is an application with elements of email, instant messaging, social media, wiki based collaboration, and, if that weren't enough, allows for integration of an almost infinite number of online applications.

Wave was developed by Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the team behind Google Maps. The application starts much like your current email inbox, with contacts in the left panel of the screen and the messages taking up the center. To communicate, you initiate a ‘Wave’, opening a dialog box into which people you want to write to are added. If the recipient(s) have their Wave application open, your Wave is communicated to them instantly, letter by letter, in real time, instead of waiting for the sender to finish the message and click send. Said Lars, "In our experience, a lot of time in IM is spent waiting for the other person to press 'Done'".

Even more unusual, the Wave can be interlineated with a response, anywhere within the message, at any time. Other recipients can be added at any time, and their responses can be inserted at any point. Multiple people can comment in a Wave simultaneously. While this sounds like it could be confusing, each response from each different person is distinguished by a border specific to that user. Wave's are cataloged in your inbox and anytime anyone adds to it, it is highlighted and moved to the top of your inbox queue. If you want to break off from a multi-person wave into a private conversation, this, too, can be conducted as part of the same Wave.

Probably the most amazing feature of the application is the feature called "Playback". As anyone who has tried to follow an already developed email thread knows, with multiple parties arguing back and forth and attempting to integrate other references, it can be frustratingly hard to follow. Playback solves this problem by allowing any person participating in the Wave to rewind it to any point and view it comment by comment.

Wave can also be used as a collaboration tool. Wave even allows people to collaborate on the same Wave simultaneously, showing the changes on every users screen in real time. These changes can also be unwound with Playback. At any point, the Wave can be exported or a new one created.

But, wait, there’s more! With Wave, you get not only a product, but also a platform. Open APIs allow developers to build new extensions that work with Waves. Online games, polls, and integration with social media services like Twitter and Facebook were examples from the presentation, but the open-source nature of Wave allows developers to built virtually limitless extensions. Wave’s can also be published and embedded virtually anywhere on the web, allowing the Wave to be crawled and integrated into Google’s search engine.

Finally, because of the open protocols of Wave, it can be integrated into organizational networks completely independent of Google using federation. Federation allows users to take the application and tailor almost every aspect of it, even the user interface. As an example, say WebMama decides we want to adopt Wave to carry our own internal messages. Because of the open protocols, we can design our own Wave system, and all the messages are kept on our own servers, completely independent of Google. In this way, it is possible developers can even improve on the version of Wave distributed by Google.

It’s difficult to completely wrap your head around all the possibilities and permutations of Wave. Google has certainly hyped it as the next big thing. If it has a weakness, it is that it seems that its user base is limited. Wave targets those who currently use email as a collaborative tool, mostly high-tech workers who use it as part of their job, or as another social media tool to help people keep in contact with one another. In order for it to be successful, it needs to be more widely adopted. As one of Wave’s developers said, “email is the most successful protocol on the planet.” It’s going to be hard to replace it.

During the presentation, the brothers Rasmussen frequently mentioned the product is still in its infancy. In the interest of keeping this post short, I’ve only scratched the surface of Wave’s capabilities and features. Wave will debut later this year. It is possible Google has created the next big thing – an application that revolutionizes email, instant messaging, and, using Google Apps, challenges Microsoft Office and Sharepoint. It remains to be seen if this brave new world will ever be realized.

Other resources

Official Google Blog – includes a link to the nearly 90 minute keynote presentation. Also has links to the Developer’s Blog, Open Federation Protocol, and Open API’s for developers.
Sign Up for Google Wave – be among the first to get Google Wave.
GigaOm’s article tempering the enthusiasm for Wave.

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