July 13, 2009

What is Google Wave?

Google Wave

A unified communication and collaboration tool

What do email, instant messaging, forums and ticketing systems have in common?

They are all mechanisms that two or more people can use to send communication back and forth. The primary differences between each is the number of people participating, the medium in which the messages exists, the speed with which the messages are delivered and the mechanism by which a user is notified of changes.

Email and instant messaging often have a dedicated medium (users of both typically run a special program like Outlook or Mac Mail) and generally happen between two people. A key difference is that email is asynchronous and instant messaging is synchronous. Instant messaging also notifies the user, well, instantly, and e-mail is a bit less “in your face.” But they share the features of a contact list and the ability to exchange text and images.Forums and ticketing systems are usually accessed with a web browser and have small to large groups participating. Forums typically require you to visit them to see new content, but often provide a way to be notified by email or through an automated “feed” that you can subscribe to. A ticketing system is used to track “issues” — where a trail of communication is stored as it tracks the status changes of the issue. If you’ve ever used a help-desk system or a bug-tracking system, you’re familiar with this concept.

Now comes Google Wave. Google Wave recognizes that these systems share 90% of the same core functionality. It then generalizes these concepts, places all the different types of messages in one location (the “Wave”) and brings the interaction with the content all under one roof (the web browser).

Imagine being able to write an email to another individual and then, as that person logs onto their computer and opens the Wave, you seamlessly switch to an instant messaging conversation — while at the same time adding two more people to the discussion. This is done while keeping the different types of messages in the same place with the full history of the conversation saved all without switching applications!

Is it e-mail? Kind of. You are sending messages back and forth.

Is it instant messaging? Sorta. When other people are online, messages become shorter and are exchanged in real time.

Is it a forum? Might as well be. All the messages are saved in a threaded view so the full history of the conversation can be reviewed at any time.

And yet, it’s all in one place accessed with one application with mechanisms for notifying you of changes.

The next beautiful part of the Wave is that it is a protocol. What does that mean? It just means that the concept and how it works is just an idea, albeit a very specific idea with rules about how it works — and Google is hard at work implementing it — but an idea nonetheless.

This means that just like e-mail and forums now, you don’t have to put all your eggs in the Google or Microsoft basket. You can participate in a Wave regardless of where it lives. A technical support Wave for your laptop might be hosted by Dell. Your daily conversation Waves would be hosted by your Internet Service provider or your employer (like e-mail is today).

All you need is nearly any modern web browser and all the Waves you participate in are aggregated together in one place for you. You get notified as changes are made and participate in the Waves by adding messages and media.

Web 2.0 ushered in social content and the ability to connect different applications to each other.

Web 3.0 may be marked by enhancements to these social media systems that are largely linked together through seamless collaboration like Google Wave.

I’m not suggesting that Google Wave is the end-all, be-all of online collaboration, but it’s a unique burst of innovation that is long overdue in this space and I’m very interested to see where we go from here. If you have some time on your hands, get the full details here: http://wave.google.com/

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