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.