If only as a developer preview, Google on Thursday revealed what it's billing as "the email of the future."
Named Google Wave, the experimental project is the result of a multiyear initiative to reinvent digital communication by blending e-mail, instant messaging, and content sharing into something resembling a cross between Twitter, Facebook, and your standard email platform.
Google Wave, which is expected to be released later this year, will "combine conversation-type communication and collaboration-type communication," Lars Rasmussen, a software engineering manager at Google and the project's co-founder, said during the Google I/O conference on Thursday.
"A 'wave' is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more," Rasmussen said.
In Google Wave, users create a wave and add people to it. Everyone on their wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the Web.
Users can then insert a reply or edit the wave directly. "It's concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave," said Rasmussen.
Google is hoping that consumers use Wave as a gateway for the myriad conversations they might be carrying at any given moment across various platforms from Facebook to Twitter to any number of blogs.
According to Rasmussen, it was his brother Jens who came up with the idea for Wave.
"He pointed out that two of the most spectacular successes in digital communication, email and instant messaging, were originally designed in the '60s to imitate analog formats -- email mimicked snail mail, and IM mimicked phone calls," Lars Rasmussen explained in a blog post on Thursday.
Since then, so many different forms of communication had been invented -- blogs, wikis, collaborative documents, etc. -- and computers and networks had dramatically improved," Lars added. "So Jens proposed a new communications model that presumed all these advances as a starting point."
As with Apple's iPhone application community and Facebook, Google also wants a developer community to flourish around Wave. Collaborative games, for one, are expected to be among the first applications to populate the environment.
In addition, Google is encouraging developers to think of Wave as a possible enhancement to existing workflow within enterprises.