It’s not Google Wave, its Tsunami

wavelogoBefore writing this post, I contemplated for a long time if I should write on Microsoft’s Bing or on Google Wave but then the scale of change in Google wave tilted the argument in favor of Google Wave. The first three applications I used on Internet were email, Search and Instant Messaging. Search changed a lot since the arrival of Google on the scene. However, email and IM are largely unchanged since Internet was conceptualized in the military labs and education institutes in early seventies and have not incorporated the technological advancements in the area of online collaboration.

There are many things that one does in different applications, e.g. the conversations in MSN Chat, photos in Flickr, videos in YouTube, articles on Wiki and documents on computer. Any project or communication could be a combination of messages, photos, videos and documents but since the data is dispersed, it is difficult to share. Organising the documents in itself could be a time consuming task leave aside real time collaboration. Google recently talked about its intentions to release a new communications tool called Google Wave incorporating the different collaboration tools and making it real-time. The official launch is expected to be towards the end of the year but in the meantime, it has been opened for the developer community.

What is Google Wave?

Google Wave is a real time communication platform. It brings together email, instant messaging, documents and picture sharing, blogs, wiki, Facebook and Twitter into one service that is easy and intuitive to understand and use. I am reproducing the definition of wave from the official Google site:

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

Key Features of Google Wave:

Google Wave has many features and they are still in the development stage. Due to the open source, I expect the final product to have far more functionalities than the current version. However, the basic features of Google Wave are as follows

  1. Communications – Google Wave seamlessly combines the features of email, instant messaging and Wikis into a single platform
  2. Collaboration is the strongest feature of Google Wave. It has the Wiki functionality that allows any users to edit the document, add blogs, pictures, videos or any file by just “Drag & Drop”. This way, the entire thread of communication is in one wave and the wave can be edited to keep it more current
  3. The wave is a live document which shows up on the screens of the users real-time. This means the users can see who is editing the document and can provide their feedback or comments at the same time. The live document makes wave an excellent collaboration tool
  4. Open Platform – The most important feature of Google Wave as with other Google products is that it is an open platform. The APIs are available to the developers to develop applicationsand wave extensions. This open source of Google wave would ensure that the utility of Google Wave keeps increasing with time. Facebook gained popularity after it was thrown open to application developers
  5. Embed ability – The waves can be embedded in any blog or website and hence mass collaboration is possible

How does it work?

Google Wave is simple to use though initially, the users may find it difficult due to multiple features that have been clubbed into one. The process starts with creating a wave and sharing it with others with whom one wants to communicate or collaborate. Anybody can join anytime even in the middle of the conversation. The users reply to the wave or edit it or add content on to the wave to make it a working document. The updates are visible real time to all the users and any user can playback any part of the wave to come up to speed in case one has joined the wave late.

 google-wave-screen-shot

As visible from the screen shot (I admit it is difficult to see but this is the best image Google has released), there would be many waves on the screen of an individual. Each individual wave is like a project and each wave would have different set of collaborators. The wave would be the complete thread of discussion and would consist of Wavelets. A Wavelet is a subset of a wave and one or more wavelets would form the wave. Similarly, one or more Blip forms a wavelet. This means Blip is the smallest form of communication in a wave. The set of people who are part of different wavelets could be different. Imagine a large project with different modules in it. Different people could be working on different modules and each module can have multiple work streams. The work streams are the Blip, modules are Wavelets and the project in itself is the wave.

Apart from a wave, wavelet and blip, there are other components of a wave like robots, extensions and gadgets which are nothing but the applications developed by developers to enhance the capability of the wave. These run within the wave just the way applications are there in Facebook or Linkedin with the only difference being that the applications here would enhance collaboration.

What does Google Wave hold for Future?

Google Wave is likely to replace the current communication and collaboration tools as the functionality offered by Google Wave is far superior. This would make the communication faster and clearer thereby saving time of the users. If adopted on a mass scale, it has serious implications on many industries and companies.

The biggest impact could be on Microsoft SharePoint. Since the advent of Google, Microsoft is trying to play catching up game in the Internet space while holding turf in the enterprise collaboration tools segment. SharePoint has been a formidable revenue engine for Microsoft, and a big reason for this success is that it’s also a development platform around which Microsoft ISVs can develop their own vertically-oriented SharePoint add-ons. So it’s possible Google simply wants to create an open-source collaboration platform alternative to SharePoint. Due to its compelling features that are well suited for corporate, it would not be surprising if it gets adopted by the enterprises in a big way. The project management functionality of Google Wave would be very handy for the enterprise segment. However, Google would need to make the product more secure to meet the requirements of the enterprise segment but then it should not be too difficult.

Wave’s competence with multiple modes of communication seems likely to doom tools with more focused functionality like email, instant messaging, etc. that does not add unique value. It could have a big impact on Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and RIM. The entire value proposition of Blackberry is built around messaging. With a fundamental shift in the way people would communicate in future, there is a big question mark on future of Blackberry unless it is able to adopt the new ways of communication.

Google Wave may have big impact on the file sharing sites like Picassa, Flickr, etc. I see people collaborating on making an online family photo album on Google Wave adding comments and anecdotes.

Since the data and other information would be available in the cloud, it is going to increase mobility and could lead to the growth of netbooks as the not much computing power would be required for online collaboration and it would possible to use the computing power of some other user.

Both Google Wave and Twitter are both forms of real-time communication. Does this mean that Google would soon take over Twitter or will it be able to ward off the competition from Twitter as it now has its own real-time communications tool in the form of Google Wave? I believe that the former is more likely. Google has a great advertising model which could monetize Twitter and Twitter is a tested platform with huge user base. This user base would be a ready consumer of Google Wave. I would not be surprised it Google takes over Twitter sooner than later.

Challenges to Success of Google Wave

The biggest hurdle I see in adoption of Google Wave is that the consumers may find it complex and difficult to use. People are used to current methods of communications and old habits die hard. Google has not been very successful with Google Docs and Google talk as it was not easy to use and Google did a poor job in communicating with the potential users. Google would need to handhold and talk to users more often to be able to make them comfortable with the new way of communication.

Google would also need to channelize the application development on Google Wave. Discovery of the right application would be a challenge for the users. Google has a lot of gadgets on its portal (iGoogle) but I am not sure how many Google users are even aware of them.

Another challenge for Google would be to pull off Google Wave. In the past, many products have been launched by Google with much fanfare but never went beyond the beta stage as they failed to live up to the expectations that were built in the run-off to the launch. Google Wave is a complex product and all the things need to fall in place before it can become a reality. Google has not been able to successfully launch mass user base products except for search. Success of Google Wave would lie in its ability to emulate the reach of search.

In summary,People often talk about email becoming passé with the younger generation using IM as the media to converse with each other. I wonder if both could be things of past soon with advent of Google Wave if Google is able to successfully meet all the challenges.

Google has released video of Thursday’s keynote speech at Google I/O in San Francisco, where the company publicly demonstrated Google Wave for the first time before about 4,000 developers. 

 

The above article is basis my understanding of Google Wave. However, there would be many more things that I may have missed. I would request the readers to contribute to the list of new features and the potential use cases for this product.

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