Google on Thursday demonstrated its new Wave communication and collaboration platform at its conference in San Francisco, prompting spontaneous applause and a standing ovation by developers.
Google Wave is a product, platform, and protocol that combines aspects of e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and blogs to allow real-time and stored collaborative messaging. It's being made available as a technology preview to conference attendees. Most of the code is open source, and Google hopes that developers will extend the system and run their own Wave servers as part of a federated network.
"We need developers to help us complete this product," explained Vic Gundotra, VP of engineering at Google and head of developer evangelism.
A public release is expected later this year.
Google clearly has high hopes for Wave. It's not every product that Gundotra describes as "magical." Developed with HTML 5, Wave also represents a proof of the power of the Web application programming model that Google and its allies have been advocating.
Wave will surely make waves for a variety of applications, many of which will be redundant following Wave's release. Some prospects for imminent obsolesce include Google Talk and other IM clients, discussion forum software, live blogging services, and wiki software.
Wave also has the potential to blunt the success of Microsoft's SharePoint. While Google isn’t positioning Wave as a SharePoint competitor, Gundotra at a press conference following the Wave demonstration highlighted Wave's openness as something lacking in SharePoint. Within a year or two, businesses considering SharePoint but worried about vendor lock-in may have an attractive lightweight alternative.
Lars Rasmussen, the Google engineer who co-founded the project with his brother Jens, insists that Wave's extensibility through APIs will help make other communication services with similar functions, like Twitter, more useful rather than less so. As if to allay fears of Wave as a business killer, the demonstration included a "twave," or Wave composed of Twitter messages gathered through a Wave extension.
But just as Apple's iPhone obviates the need to carry both a phone and a music player by combining both functions in the same device, Wave's competence with multiple modes of communication seems likely to doom tools with more focused functionality that don't add unique value.
Wave represents an attempt to imagine "what might e-mail look like if it were invented today," according to Rasmussen.
That raises the question of e-mail's future following Wave's launch. Fortunately for those who love e-mail, Wave isn't a replacement, at least not for several decades. It may siphon more meaningful interactions that benefit from Wave's collaborative capabilities. But Wave looks like a poor medium for unsolicited messages, commercial or otherwise, which account for about 90% of e-mail presently.
Since Wave participants must accept a Wave invitation, the potential for Waves initiated by spammers appears to be limited. The invitations themselves aren't customizable and so can't effectively convey marketing messages. Wave also supports cryptographic sender verification, which should avoid spoofing problems. In addition, the underlying system includes spam detection systems developed by Google and supports spam reporting, just in case.
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