Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Google Wave will replace the Internet

When I tell you Google is about to change our most fundamental assumptions about living, working and communicating online, I expect most of you to roll your eyes and dismiss me.

But this time is different. The product is called Google Wave and it really could change everything. Wave was unveiled last Thursday at the Google I/O convention in San Francisco. Google gurus Stephanie Hannon and Lars Rasmussen hosted an hour-plus demo of Wave that has developers scrambling to build extensions for it, even as half the Internet prepares to have their business models destroyed.

You won’t really understand the power of Google Wave until you see it. It’s worth 40 minutes to view the demo online but I’ll do my best to explain it in text.

Think of Google Wave as a canvas. Each new Wave is a blank sheet of virtual paper. Most people will use it like e-mail. You can start a Wave, select the people you want to include and type a standard message.

But instead of passing the e-mail around to different people and adding replies to the top of it, the Wave lives on one centralized server. You don’t make a new copy of the Wave and pass it around. You invite people to the server and let them join the work in progress.

It sounds simple but this notion of centralized hosting gives people incredible power over their messages and eliminates all kinds of annoyances we’re living with now.

Let’s take the simplest example. Right now if you want to reply to an e-mail you have to copy the whole thing and add your comments at the top. People who want to follow the conversation have to scroll down and think backwards to figure out who said what.

But with a Google Wave you can click anywhere in the message and put your reply exactly where it belongs. People who visit the Wave will see the end result with your reply in context, without having to scroll around or read the whole thing.

Now let’s say you want to add more people. As the conversation grows, just drag and drop from your contact list and new people will be invited to the Wave. But what happens if two people want to add things at the same time?

Wave sends messages from the client to the server character by character in real time. So if you start to type a reply in one part of the message while Bob is adding text to the bottom, you can see each other typing without any kind of disruption or hesitation.

Sounds trivial, but when you think of this as a shared canvas, it opens up a whole realm of possibilities. Right now if you want to communicate with a colleague about a project you have to choose what kind of communication tool is best for the job.

Should you send an e-mail or catch them with an instant message? Should you write things up in a spreadsheet or Word document and attach it somewhere? Should you dump all your materials into a shared network folder? Can they access all this on a phone or mobile device?

With Google Wave, you don’t have to make that choice. You can start with an e-mail conversation and drop in a document or a chart. You can catch people online and type in real time within the Wave. You can add new people to the conversation without having to repeat yourself, and all of this material can be accessed effortlessly from a web browser or mobile device.

Everything in the Wave is preserved so new people can see the complete product. There’s even a playback function that will let people see how the Wave grew step by step.

Imagine a simple collaborative task, like planning the budget for a daily newspaper. Every day we start with a list of stories and decide how they’ll be presented in print and online.

With Google Wave we could drop in photo elements, video, charts and audio clips — all in the same document. We could drag the stories around to determine the best placement and host live discussions about the status of stories and where each one belongs.

All forms of input can be preserved. Editors can replay the Wave and add input from the office, from home or live from their phones while sitting in a restaurant.

Google Waves will be a great business tool, but they can also be used to interact with the public. Waves can be shared or embedded within blogs. Readers of a blog can click inside the Wave to add comments or edit content without leaving the page.

Attach a Wave to a news story and you can enjoy the functionality of a message board and a live chat room, on a platform that allows multimedia attachments. We’ll need to develop protocols and establish rules for public Waves, but properly implemented, Waves could replace Twitter, Facebook, comment services, chat plugins and a dozen other tools that we’re using within blogs.

Users can participate in Waves all over the Internet and manage their conversations from one inbox.

Application developers are rushing to merge Wave with Facebook, Twitter and other popular services, but once people get used to this technology, our current menu of web services could be replaced by nested Waves.

Google hasn’t just built an application here. They’ve built a protocol that changes the way Internet services talk to each other; and in a display of good corporate citizenship, they’re going to make it Open Source and allow anyone to set up their own Wave server, suitable for corporate or private use.

There is one downside to all this power. Once Wave becomes popular, the potential for career-ending social mistakes goes way up. A good idea may start in a small three-person conversation. You work up the idea together and one member says, “Don’t let Brad in Marketing see this. He’ll ruin the whole thing.”

Not a big deal if the conversation stays between three friends in the same department, but what happens when that Wave grows into a company-wide proposal that gets shared with dozens of people?

Waves are less private than e-mail, so it’s easier to commit career suicide inside one. I’m curious to see how quickly we’ll get a slang term for this. I’m voting for “Waveicide” or “The Short Wave Goodbye.”

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 2, 2009 at 14:23

Posted in Google Wave

7 Responses

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  1. I’m casting my vote for “the short wave goodbye.”

    Kenny Ketner

    June 2, 2009 at 16:57

  2. Hmmm… Is this from the same people who have had Gmail in Beta for 5 years? As well as other great innovations like Google Video player with it’s proprietary format, Orkut the uber geeks’ social network, and the failed google pages now evolved into the famed and equally failing google sites? Not to mention the plethora of Google lab expirements that were mainstreamed and advertised as the next big thing only to see them fade away from the labs lists of current projects. Well sir, you have a lot of confidence, but I am going to see how it pans out before I start evangelizing people.


    June 2, 2009 at 17:04

  3. And this differs from a Wiki how?

    Reality: if companies aren’t using Wikis for collaboration they won’t use Waves, unless they are run by the sort of sheep who don’t adopt technology until a big name like Google is behind it, in which case they have much bigger things than the details of collaboration technology to worry about.


    June 3, 2009 at 06:59

  4. I thought there were a lot of differences between this and a Wiki.

    Live collaboration
    Character by character updating
    Ease of use, typing directly in the workspace freeform.
    Notifications and management of Waves through an email metaphor
    Embedding within blogs
    Being able to drag and drop media within the Wave

    And yeah, it is a big name that puts weight behind it.

    When you’re talking about the average corporate user, simply cutting out two intermediate steps for an action can make a big difference.

    It’s amazing how high the cognitive cost of “log in and press this button and then browse to your file and press this button” can be compared to “just drag it over.”

    Not a big deal to power users like you and me, but when you get beyond a certain number of steps, the average user just shuts down and mentally bails out.

    Google’s strategy of “just do stuff in this space and we’ll save it” — the very lack of organization within a Wave will appeal to some people.

    I think we’ll get a lot of “ugliest Wave” contests, but the information will be there and the presentation will be functional, even when they’re ugly.

    Michael Duff

    June 3, 2009 at 08:42

  5. Fair enough, “freeform collaborative realtime wiki-like tool” may be sufficiently different from a Wiki to warrant its own name, although colour me sceptical.

    Thinking about the free-formness and realtimeness I can see a lot of ways this tool could be an engine of hilarity in the average corporate environment, as the suits progressively lose control of the flow of information…


    June 3, 2009 at 16:00

  6. You’ve hit on the real reason I’m looking forward to it.

    Michael Duff

    June 3, 2009 at 16:05

  7. I watched the preview video after reading your column. Very interesting stuff, looking forward to getting to work with this. Awesome column as always, Mr. Duff. Your column is my favorite part of the AJ, please keep the tech news coming!


    June 5, 2009 at 14:51

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