Google Wave: Write Once, Update Everywhere


As I’m writing this on my notebook, I’m intermittently checking e-mail, answering instant messages, tweeting, and sending Facebook updates. That’s a lot of windows: Wouldn’t it be nice if I could take care of all these things within one easy-to-use application?

Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the brothers behind Google Maps, thought so too–and the powers that be (a.k.a. Sergey Brin) at Google believed in the concept enough to give them a team in Australia to develop it over the last two years.

Today, at the Google IO developers conference, the Rasmussen brothers and lead product manager Stephanie Hannon previewed the results of their labors: a browser-based communication and collaboration platform called Wave.

It took them a good 90 minutes (the entire day-two keynote) to show off Wave’s many capabilities, but at its most basic level, it’s a cross between e-mail and instant messaging client. If the person you’re communicating with is online, the communication becomes a two-way IM chat; if not, your message is waiting for them when they log on.

One panel of the paned interface shows every conversation–live or latent, Google calls them waves–much the way most e-mail inboxes look. Another pane shows the actual messages in the wave. Here’s a screenshot I grabbed from the Wave preview site:


The IM functionality has a very neat aspect that alone sold me on the concept: As you type, each character is sent in real time, so that I can even “interrupt” you by typing back before you complete your sentence. I also liked Wave’s ability to let you admit third parties to your conversation–and a playback feature that lets them see the messages they missed.

But wait, there’s more. Waves can include images, videos, even maps–making Wave a document creation tool, too. And multiple users can edit waves in real time, with tracking a la Word revision mode–powerful collaboration features.

Because Wave is browser-based, you can use it from in Web-enabled phone (there was a brief demo of this). And because Google is open-sourcing what Lars Rasmussen described as “the lion’s share” of Wave code as well as its protocols, developers are free to create their own Wave clients and servers that can still communicate with other Wave clients and servers (much the way e-mail works).

All this makes Wave a candidate for all sorts of uses, including forums, wikis, bug-track systems (Google I/O is a developer conference, remember) and anything that you might now be managing via, say, Yahoo Groups.

Of course, e-mail and traditional IM systems aren’t going away anytime soon. But because Wave’s protocols are open source, developers could (in theory) create gateways between these systems (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) and Wave so that early adopters could use Wave for all their communication needs. (That’s a big if, obviously.)

The Wave demo earned a standing ovation from the developers at this morning’s keynote. Sadly, however, Wave is still at least a few months away from even a beta public release: Right now, all you can do is sign up to be notified when it’s ready.

In the meantime, you can read Lars Rasmussen’s post about Wave on the Google blog, or if time is no object, watch video of the keynote.

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