Google Wave or just a Blip?

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a presentation from a Google Engineering Director about Google Wave, an online communication and collaboration tool that Google recently unveiled at the Google I/O developer conference. For those who, like me, were unable to attend I/O, Google has posted the entire 80-minute presentation on YouTube (embedded above). For those of you without 80 minutes to spare, Gina Trapani has assembled a highlight reel.

The pitch is that email, the most popular technology for online communication, is a 40 years old and needs an overhaul to reflect the opportunities of an always-on world. They also emphasize that everything they’ve done works inside the browser.

The video is sexy, showing off both the real-time updating capabilities of Wave (blurring the lines between email and instant messaging) and the ability to support structure more cleanly than email (e.g., responding to only part of an email). The conversation model is also nice: for example, participants can bring someone new into a conversation, and that new person can access the evolution of a conversation (a sort of retroactive cc). Indeed, Wave looks more like Basecamp than like email.

Google is pitching Wave to developers–they even stole a page from Oprah and gave every Google I/O attendee a new Android phone in order to develop applications using their early-access Wave accounts. I haven’t studied the APIs, but the object model seems reasonable, ranging from a “blip” (a low-level event associated with content, possibly as fine-grained as someone typing a single character) to “wavelets” (the sub-conversations that comprise a wave) to of course the wave itself. And, given that the team is led by the folks who developed Google Maps, I have no doubt that they understand how to play well with mash-ups.

But I’m left with two big questions.

The first is what it would feel like to access this rich structured history of conversation. The search interface feels a lot like Gmail’s–and I don’t mean that as a compliment. I use Gmail, but I curse every time I have to deal with managing search results that include large conversational threads. I think there will be a lot of challenges for managing search results, and I’m curious how Google, with its historically spartan approach to search interfaces, will address them.

The second is about interoperability. For all of the openness, I get the sense that everything can be brought into Wave and Waves can be embedded anywhere. That feels about as open as Facebook. What I’m missing is a sense of how (or even if!) Google Wave will interoperate with other communication platforms. They do show an example of building a Twitter client within Wave–perhaps that is representative of their interoperability strategy.

The Google Wave demo is impressive, and I have no doubt that developers will play with it and build cool demos of their own. But I believe the ultimate success of Google Wave will depend on how they address the above two questions. Time will tell.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

8 replies on “Google Wave or just a Blip?”

I think interoperability is well addressed at Wave with the Wave Protocol (

And about the access to the conversation, I think the Wave interface is only a preview of what they’ll develop over it. But most important is that being an open platform, many people will develop clients that’ll show the information in several ways. That represents a great strategy, allowing to 3rd parties to innovate over the platform, as it happened with Twitter.


Perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought that protocol is meant to enable different Wave instances to interoperate with one another, rather than to enable Wave instances to interoperate with non-Wave instances.


Same issue about interoperability keeps bugging me too. 3rd parties are free to implement the Wave protocol in their applications to bring about interaction which would otherwise not exist.

The question is what would compel them to do so ?


Am I correct in understanding that it’s open enough that you can run your own Wave server, and not have to send everything through Google? Or am I mistaken?


Jeremy, you are correct (at least according to the presentation)–you can implement the protocol yourself, and Google does not act as a central server. This is not (or not just) a hosted service, but rather a protocol.


They say they will open-source most of it, and they seem committed to helping people install their own servers. Watch the whole video, and you’ll know as much as I do. The presentation I attended was more compact, but didn’t add any new information (Googlers seem to be very tight about that sort of thing).


Ok, I’ll give it a watch. Can I just say, though, that I find video on the internet a particularly frustrating experience, in general? Sometimes its very useful. And I’m sure seeing some of the Wave features in action helps. But as a information transfer medium, sometimes 2-3 paragraphs of text is so much richer than 45 minutes of video.

That’s just a personal rant, though. Thanks for the pointers!


Comments are closed.