Google Wave

Google Wave logoAt the Google I/O conference this week, Google gave a preview of Google Wave, a new communication and collaboration platform planned for release later this year. Google intends for the platform to be open-source, and is encouraging developers to contribute to the platform through a set of APIs. Those developers who are interested can sign up for access to a sandbox environment, where they can get their feet wet and where they can test their creations.

With Google Wave, Google appears to have reimagined email, instant messaging, and a host of related online communication media. Why allow email to be constrained by the limitations of SMTP or IMAP? Why should email and instant messaging even be considered separate concepts? In Google Wave, messages are called waves, and a wave can contain all kinds of content from any number of participants. A wave could be a conversation, a document on which several people collaborate, a poll, a bug report, or a photo gallery.

Google’s engineers admit that during the development of Google Wave, even they found it difficult to step beyond their preconceived notions of email and instant messaging. Each of these means of communication has its limitations, and each has applications to which it is well suited. Google Wave is envisioned to be a superset of many of the communication media that preceded it. Some potential uses of Google Wave weren’t apparent to the developers until they had been using the platform for a while.

I’d argue that most of the potential applications have not yet been envisioned. By open-sourcing the platform, Google seems to want to attract the same kind of participation from third-party developers as with the mobile Android platform.

In my eyes, Google Wave could be a potential long-term threat to Facebook. Google’s social networking platform Orkut never gained much of a following (outside of Brazil). Google Wave no only integrates with Orkut, but stands to make it mostly obsolete. With extensions, Google Wave could provide all the capability of Facebook and more. Heck, developers could even provide Facebook-originated content inside of waves. If Google Wave catches on, the next few years will be very interesting ones.

Update 2009-06-01 05:32 UCT—The Google Wave team appear to be fans of the short-lived but excellent Firefly television series. See the Google Wave Wikipedia article for details. Lisa A. brought this my attention. Thanks, Lisa!

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