Email Rebooted: Google Previews Wave

The Google Wave Logo
The Google Wave Logo

By far the biggest news to come out of the Google I/O developer conference held earlier this week was the preview of Google Wave, the company’s concept for the communication/collaboration tool of the future. As put by Lars Rasmussen, one of Wave’s creators, it answers the question: “What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?”

Tim O’Reilly with a high-level overview of what Google Wave is:

In answering the question, Jens, Lars, and team re-imagined email and instant-messaging in a connected world, a world in which messages no longer need to be sent from one place to another, but could become a conversation in the cloud. Effectively, a message (a wave) is a shared communications space with elements drawn from email, instant messaging, social networking, and even wikis.

Ok, so that’s a good description, but might not completely capture what’s so cool and unique about Wave. Seamless real-time conversation is the goal, and based on the preview, Google Wave appear to achieve it. Here’s a screenshot.

If you’re a Gmail user, the interface will look somewhat familiar. Wave is organized around conversation threads, which it calls – wait for it – waves. Discussions are live, to the point that you can see what other people are typing while they’re typing it – a feature that brings back memories of the ICQ chat client. Again, Tim O’Reilly:

A key point here is that Google’s relentless focus on reducing the latency of online actions is bringing the online experience closer and closer to our real world experience of face-to-face communication. When you’re talking with someone, you know what someone is saying before they finish their sentence. You can respond, or even finish their sentence for them. So too with Wave.

Waves are owned by the group, so anything written in it  can be edited by anyone else in the group via Wiki-like functionality. Also, photos and documents can be shared with others simply by dragging-and-dropping them into the Google Wave window. In the case of photos, group members will instantly see thumbnail previews, even before the images finish uploading. This is very, very, cool.

Google Wave is actually three composed of three layers:

  • Google Wave the product is a web application (seen in the screenshot above) taking advantage of the new features available in HTML 5.
  • Google Wave the platform is a series of open APIs that allow developers to build on the foundation built by Google
  • Google Wave the protocol is the underlying network protocol for sharing waves between wave providers. Just like anyone can setup their own SMTP email server, you’ll be able to configure your own Wave server using Google’s open source specification to collaborate with others

Most of us will have to wait until later this year in order to try Google Wave, but developers seem excited, and that’s a very good thing. If you’re really interested in learning more about Wave, you can check out the one hour, 20 minute developer preview video that shows a bunch of other features I didn’t touch on, including embeddability, wave playback, natural language correction, and more.

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