Finally unveiled after years of development under the codename “Walkabout,” Google Wave combines popular features from across the web — feeds, shared documents, photo galleries, etc. — to redefine online communication. At least that’s the goal. Its creators, Lars and Jens Rasmussen (the Google Maps creators), even say they set out to break down traditional modes of communication — email and instant messaging — to find a system more in sync with how web users prefer to talk today. The result looks promising.
Interest and high expectations from the new service caused the string Google Wave to lead the today Google Trends listing.
At a basic level, Wave is part chat room, part collaborative document. You and your friends belong to a page that any of you can add information to, and it will show up for everyone in real time. And this information comes in many different forms: images, videos, links, comments, event invitations, polls, blog entries, and the like. It’s an ongoing conversation — with rich content.
Here is a quick wrap-up of the product’s features, announced on the Google I/O Conference earlier today:
- You can add any number of users to a wave, just like inviting friends to your Gchat list.
- You can post richly-formatted text, photos, links and videos, just like on your Facebook feed.
- You can simply drag and drop files (photos, docs, etc.) to add them to your Wave
- You can stream in your feeds, including Twitter and FriendFeed (a company that’s probably not having the best day).
- You can reply to or comment on anything another member has posted to the Wave.
- You can type at the same time as anyone else on your Wave, and it your messages will show up in real time almost character by character (though you can toggle it to show messages only after you press done, like an IM).
- You can rewind and play back your Wave conversation to see how it evolved at any point.
- Wave is open source, allowing third-party developers to play with and extend the product (something Google is encouraging before its public launch).
- You can export an edited wave as a new wave and start over if it gets too confusing.
- You can make some parts of a conversation viewable by a select group, or entirely private.
- You can embed your Waves in other places — your blog, your web site, etc.
- The open API allows developers to easily build new features into Wave — one example is Polly, a tool that lets you add polls to a wave. This also functions as an RSVP feature, negating the need for sites like eVite.
- Another extension, Bloggy, lets you start a Wave with a blog post, that readers can then respond to in a variety of ways.
- You can play interactive games in the sidebar of your Wave, like chess (an incarnation of Scrabble is sure to follow if it hasn’t already).
- Wave has workable versions for Android and the iPhone.
This list already seems impressive, but at the moment, the functionality is somewhat limited. Google is introducing Google Wave at its developer conference for a reason: "a lot of this depends on developer uptake," Rasmussen said. The company will release APIs (application programming interfaces) at the conference so that developers can start testing how to build Wave into their own sites, or how to integrate their services with Google's.
Google envisions three types of developer projects using Wave. The first is the most obvious; using Wave as a gateway for conversations that you're already having elsewhere on Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites.
There are plenty of reasons for Google to try to tap into the "stickiness" of various social networks, where users spend obscene amounts of time. And the company thinks that services such as Twitter recognize the value of letting others build a front end into their services: there are dozens of Twitter apps for PCs and smartphones that grant such access without having to use Twitter's own front end, and those apps don't seem to have put much of a dent in Twitter's overall traffic. For starters, Google Wave will allow users to post new items to blogs created with Blogger from within a wave, and see comments and replies within a wave.
The second category involves creating applications that run within a wave, similar to how developers have used Facebook as a platform to create all sorts of applications. Collaborative games are expected to be among the first applications to appear within Google Wave.
Lastly, Google wants developers to think of Wave as a possible enhancement to an existing workflow within an enterprise. The example Rasmussen used was a bug tracker used by software developers to identify and assign bugs. Bugs could be organized in waves; participants post the new bug to a global wave, then the team leader can assign bugs to individual team members within the wave, and developers can comment on their fix for a particular bug as they are tackled and cleared, all within the same thread.Here’s an explanation of the concept behind Wave via the Google YouTube channel: