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Why Google Wave IS Conceptually Simple

Wave isn’t a fancy new web app by Google, it’s the new email.

Last week, Google announced Wave, their new big idea in internet communication at their annual I/O developer’s conference. This project is absolutely impressive and has the potential to really improve the way we communicate and collaborate on the web, it’s just hard to tell, because the of the very long and very boring video Google is using to promote it.

Google’s recently announced Wave communication framwork/protocol/platform/whatever (we’ll just refer to it as a platform from here on out) has been met with some negative response. Yes, it is extremely impressive, but the interface looks a bit complex, and its purpose seems to be too loosely defined. I believe a big part of this is due to Google’s decision to let the development team announce the platform with a full-on demo, rather than to simply demo it once the marketing team had a chance to tell you what the hell it is.

Granted, Google’s announcement/demo was targeted specifically at developers, however, Google has neglected to accurately describe the platform conceptually, and it appears to be using the 80+ minute developer session video as its official product announcement.

I watched the whole video from beginning to end, and I wasn’t able to wrap my head around exactly what Wave was until about 60 minutes into the video. I am a very busy web developer. Taking 80 minutes out of my day to watch an in-depth demo on even the most relevant thing to my future is kind of a big deal. I can’t imagine the average media person taking 80 minutes out of their day to report on something from a detailed developer demonstration like this. Again, a brief overview, followed by a separate, more hands-on demo would have been much more appropriate.

After going through the video a few times, I am convinced that Wave could replace email and instant messaging as a primary means of communication online. This is because that is essentially what Wave is: a hybrid email/chat protocol designed to be open like email.

What Wave Is In Order Of Importance

Forget that Google is involved here for a moment. Forget that Wave has an interface that works in a web browser. These things are largely irrelevant.

Wave is essentially the next generation of email. Not web mail, Gmail, or Outlook, but rather a new backbone of protocols that go beyond what is possible with SMTP/IMAP/POP/etc. It is the new email, like the automobile was the new horse, and TV was the new radio. The only significance Google plays in this is that they invented it, and made a fancy interface for it that works in a web browser.

Just as Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and joe-blow.net offer SMTP/POP/IMAP email service to customers, they can also provide Wave service. Service that is not hosted by Google or even related to Google in any way—exactly the same way that Mobile Me and Yahoo email are not related to, or hosted by Google.

Wave takes elements of email, instant messaging, discussion forums, and remote document sharing and squishes them into a single thing. A Wave “message” is sort of like an email message that functions like a chat room. Similar to how you might send an email message to one or more people, you create a Wave to (or actually, for) one or more people, and that Wave shows up in their inbox.

Unlike email, waves are centralized so that everyone participating in the Wave sees the latest version. The person or people you are “sending the Wave to” can insert comments, images and multimedia inline with other content of the Wave, as well as change existing information in real time. If you are typing in a Wave message with one or more people at the same time, you can see them typing in real time as well, just like in Apple’s iChat IM application (and just like in iChat, you can turn the annoying real-time typing off). Alternately, participants in a Wave who are not online will see that changes have been made to the Wave the next time they log in to check, similar to how new email shows up in your inbox.

You can also playback all the changes that have taken place in a Wave from when it was first created to its current state. This is much cleaner and more user friendly than scrolling through all the indented replies of an extended top-reply email thread.

Google has created a very robust API and web framework so that developers, ISPs and email service providers can get up and running very quickly. Google’s primary interface for their Wave installation is web based, of course, just like their email service, Gmail is. This doesn't mean that you will have to use this web interface (nor does it mean you will have to use Google as your Wave provider). Software developers could conceivably make stand-alone Wave applications similar to Apple Mail or Outlook to interact with and manage Wave messages. Web developers can customize Google’s web framework, contribute to it, or build their own from scratch.

Google made wave hyper extensible. Developers can create modules that extend what you can do in Wave messages. One of the simple extensions Google made was an event sign-up module, sort of like an e-vite. The dev team used it to organize a trip to see a movie together. Participants in the wave could select a yes/no/maybe response by clicking a single button, and also add comments pictures or whatever else to the Wave they wanted.

A more amazing extension they demoed was a real time language translator. Imagine two people chatting in a Wave. One speaks only English, the other only French, and the Wave they are participating in translates all the text in the message in real time as each person is typing. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because they do it right here.

Wave Is Conceptually Simple

Wave consolidates the most popular ways we communicate online into a single, logical place. It’s primary purpose is simple. It is email with live chat built in. You can use it like email. You can use it like live chat. You can use it like both at the same time.

Because Wave is able to function like traditional email, the barrier to entry will be relatively low. The biggest challenge will be trying to get the media to ignore this video and to provide them with some real perspective on just what Wave is.

Google has made a grave error in using this video as its primary introduction to Wave. The development team may have been too close to the project to effectively announce it. They put way too much emphasis on the web interface they created for it, and arranged the presentation backwards.

I hope the right people take the time to play with Wave and really give it a chance. It really looks like this could be the end of email as we know it.