Sunday, June 21, 2009

Preview Google Wave

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Google Wave is a new communication service previewed today at Google I/O. "A wave is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more."

The service seems to combine Gmail and Google Docs into an interesting free-form workspace that could be used to write documents collaboratively, plan events, play games or discuss a recent news.

Google Wave has been designed by the founders of Where 2 Tech, a start-up acquired by Google to create a cutting-edge mapping service, which later became Google Maps.

"Back in early 2004, Google took an interest in a tiny mapping startup called Where 2 Tech, founded by my brother Jens and me. We were excited to join Google and help create what would become Google Maps. But we also started thinking about what might come next for us after maps. As always, Jens came up with the answer: communication. He pointed out that two of the most spectacular successes in digital communication, email and instant messaging, were originally designed in the '60s to imitate analog formats — email mimicked snail mail, and IM mimicked phone calls. Since then, so many different forms of communication had been invented — blogs, wikis, collaborative documents, etc. — and computers and networks had dramatically improved. So Jens proposed a new communications model that presumed all these advances as a starting point; I was immediately sold," explains Lars Rasmussen.

"In Google Wave you create a wave and add people to it. Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web. They can insert a reply or edit the wave directly. It's concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave. That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content -- it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use "playback" to rewind the wave to see how it evolved."

You can see some screenshots of the service and find some details about the API that could be used to extend the service and the Wave protocol that allows anyone to run a "wave" server. Google promises that Google Wave will be available later this year.

VentureBeat writer Anthony Ha live-blogged Wave’s pre-launch demo from the Google I/O conference this morning, but here’s a quick wrap-up of the product’s features:
- 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 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 there’s a reason Google chose to unveil the product at its developer conference: There’s still a long way to go. Right now, Wave resembles a bunch of services that already exist on the web, from Twitter to FriendFeed to Facebook. Putting them all in one place is a breakthrough in itself, but for truly radical innovation, it’s a masterful idea to tap into third-party enthusiasm. It will be interesting to see how different the product looks by launch time.

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