They’ve dominated search, made paper maps obsolete, and captured a huge chunk of the world’s email inboxes. Now Google wants to own internet communications on a brand new platform of its own invention.
Google’s Next Wave in Internet Communications
Google Wave is a highly collaborative mix of email, shared documents, instant messaging and more, with elements of blogging, social media, photo sharing, project management and issue tracking all thrown in.
The technical aspects of this new tool are very impressive. Not only has Google built its own interface for Wave, but they are releasing an extensive open API that allows developers to access Wave as a communication protocol within their own web-based applications.
If you’ve ever shared a document via Google Docs or a WIki, you’ll immediately grasp the workflow. But Wave starts as casually as an email. It then becomes easy to branch off into a multi-threaded conversation all bound together by the glue of the wave. Clicking individual paragraphs allows you to respond to only that point. Adding new users gives them access to the entire conversation.
Taming the Document History
Such a dynamic framework could easily become confusing, as conversations outgrow their original intent. Mike Elgan at Computerworld seems ready to dismiss the entire project for that reason.
Addressing that concern is where Google created one of the product’s most innovative features. By using the “Playback” function, users can see the entire history of the wave, step by step. Playback can show the progress of the entire conversation, or can be filtered to show only actions of a selected type or by selected users. If you’ve ever been added to an email thread after more than two people have chimed in, it’s not hard to imagine how much more quickly you’d be caught up if playback were available. It’s also a big step towards clarity when compared to most wikis’ “version history.”
Extending Wave’s Reach
The open, extensible nature of Wave means photos or text you attach there can be automatically published to your blog, and updates in either place are immediately reflected on the other. That immediacy translates when collaborating with others, too. As you make edits or type new information into a wave, anyone else who is sharing that document at the same time can see you typing even before you hit enter, for a high-speed workflow similar to instant messaging.
The product is still in its infancy, and won’t be released to the public for some time. Still, there’s considerable enthusiasm about the developer preview. TechCrunch gave a positively glowing review of its vision and ambition.
Opening Web 2.0 to Customers, Partners, and Even Machines
Without releasing Wave into the wild, it’s difficult to predict what forms it will take once real users begin to work with it. The demo video gives an excellent picture of the kind of interaction that’s possible between human users. But the potential for a revolutionary transformation of workflow comes in the ability to let non-human applications and processes join the conversation. Dion Hinchcliffe at ZDNet imagines Wave giving IT systems like personnel, customer and resource management a seat at the Web 2.0 table:
A Perfect Fit with Google’s Long Term Strategy
From a strategic standpoint, this gives Google the potential to claim an entirely new space in internet information sharing. Compared to search, maps and email, where they took existing systems and improved upon them, Wave represents an entirely new collaborative model.
Jordan Golson at Salon accuses Google of climbing to “new heights of arrogance” in what he sees as purely a vanity project.
Google, as a company, has failed at monetizing everything except search (and, though it’s based on the same tech, partner web sites through AdSense). Advertising on YouTube has been a failure, and is costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars a year in server costs. The culture at the company is to build first and ask questions later, typical for a company run almost top to bottom by engineers.
The breathtaking arrogance of blowing off potential competition and touting tech buzzwords rather than at least giving a cursory examination as to how one might make money from a product is the Google way.
I’m sure Mr. Golson thinks his pragmatic view is a better way to do business. But he ignores Wave’s contribution to Google’s overall goal to own all the information on the internet, and doesn’t see how powerfully Wave could contribute to that effort. Boiling Wave down to its potential for immediate revenue generation is short-sighted at best.
By providing free services like Gmail, Maps, Docs, Analytics and Earth, Google extends their reach into the way people think about Google’s integration into the internet. What’s more, they encourage users to load their servers with information which those users are then dependent upon Google to retrieve.
In each of these projects, Google opens new doorways for users to interact with information on the internet. And in each case, Google holds the keys to the door.
When that is the overarching goal, a few salaried workers’ time spent on a project like Wave is a minor expense. Finding a revenue model to make each project self-supporting is the kind of short-term business model that most other companies would use. That approach would stifle innovation and detract from the long term focus. That’s the reason most other companies are not Google.
Learn More About Google Wave
What do you think about Wave? Is this a tool you’re excited about trying? Do you think your answer reflects how entrenched you are in traditional email, or how comfortable you are with multiple points of presence, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others? I’d love to get your comments below.