Yes, This Is the (Google) Wave of the Future

Per usual, I wasn't invited. In this case, I wasn't invited to test out Google Wave, the new communication and collaboration tool (with the badly timed name) that Google dispersed to 100,000 developers and invitees yesterday.

I did, however, look at the video of most of the one-hour-and-20-minute presentation Google gave to developers back in May (pour yourself a glass of wine tonight and take a peek at it here). It got me thinking about how Google Wave further flattens the distinctions between email and IMing, blogging and collaborating, while also expanding the definition of social media, and media itself. Whether this particular platform catches on isn't exactly the point. It's a significant step down a path that is becoming more heavily traveled every day.

Wherever Google Wave leads, it's a signpost of a trend we've been seeing for a long time -- which is that what used to be discrete lines between different forms of communication are now being erased. What a "Wave" essentially consists of is the combined, ongoing set of communications, including all of the documents and people involved, and the different media forms they contain, around a certain subject. It could be the editing of a press release, or a group recounting of a vacation, including photos. Argh. It's hard to explain.



Here's Google's description, which also doesn't quite depict Wave's scope: "A Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more."

What does become clear from the developer video, however, is that it's becoming accurate to think of everything, from spreadsheets to emails between two people, as media, since those activities can be collaborated upon and then shared, with the click of a button, much more easily in a public forum than many current tools give us. It also shows that most media forms are becoming social. In fact, in a new definition of the term "gang-bang," the demo showed a couple of people all communicating and collaborating on the same Wave at the exact same time.

AAAAAHHHHHH! Get me some Excedrin!

But in all seriousness, despite the potential that Google Wave will unleash "collaborative" fights-to-the-death among overcaffeinated editors, there's some really cool stuff here. For the purposes of this column, I'll concentrate on some of the ones that fall most closely into the category of what we call social media:  


  • Through a tool called Bloggy, entire Waves -- full of posted pictures, commentary, even emails -- can be published astonishingly easily to a blog.


  • Another one, Linky, does a more refined job of identifying URLs than what is currently on the market, making link-sharing within a Wave easier.


  • Another one, Searchy (OK, these names are hokey, I know), allows people to search from within a Wave and automatically post links that matched their query.


  • As Google Wave, is, of course, part of the OpenSocial initiative, OpenSocial gadgets can be used within Waves.


  • Waves can expand to import contacts from outside the Wave system. (If you were wondering, a Twitter extension for Wave has already been built.)


Google Wave can also transform an email discussion into IMing if both users are online, and invite others into the discussion. It can transmit typing in real-time (in other words, no more of those "Cathy is typing..." messages); there's even a playback function which allows people to see how the Wave developed.

It's as though the development team examined dozens of barriers that separate communications forms and then went about the work of figuring out how they could be taken down. As a result, they've built the most social platform ever constructed.

As I said earlier, it's impossible to know whether Google Wave will catch on. Sometimes I sense, even among the most geeky among us, some platform-fatigue-- there's just too many platforms to track, let alone use. However, it is important in a directional sense. Google Wave and/or its descendants will be our social media future. Hell, probably our media future.

11 comments about "Yes, This Is the (Google) Wave of the Future".
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  1. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., October 1, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    Thanks for the useful and thoughtful summary.

    I have to give a lot of credit to Google for ambition. But where my skepticism arises is this: are they solving a problem I don't really have?

    While none of us may have ever felt we needed e-mail or the Web, etc., Wave is an assembly of existing technologies -- rather than the creation of new ones. And when counting the number of times I smack myself in the forehead, saying, "Oh, if only I could post my chat and e-mails on my blog", etc.,I come up with zero -- to be honest.

    Where products start by design isn't always where they end up -- particularly when they anticipate needs that aren't as clearly defined. So you cannot rule out its future. I just don't see a place for it in my present.

  2. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, October 1, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    I read that the team managing the product is in Australia. That explains the goofy names like Linky -- Australians use that diminutive form a lot more than we do in the US. Good article, I'd been trying to figure out exactly what Wave was, but blanched at the prospect of a 1:20 product demo! You made sense of it for me. thanks

  3. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., October 1, 2009 at 12:43 p.m.

    This is a really insightful summary and interpretation of what Wave is all about. From the perspective of someone who develops software for "media 2.0," it's even more exciting. Wave - the product - is actually just Google's instantiation of a system of web services and server roles: all interoperating via an open, simple, XML-based messaging protocol that anticipates much of what's needed to support a host of collaboration paradigms and business models -- from 'Wave hosting' (public, enterprise, secure, etc.) to specialized clients to intermediary and plug-in services.

    I can already imagine people "living 24/7 in their Waves" in a much more holistic and productive sense than point solutions like Twitter will permit. And once enterprises get a glimmer of how Wave can solve the problem of email, IM, blogs, wikis, tweets, rss, podcasts, vodcasts, etc. in a single, administrable platform, business uptake will be explosive. For media companies - obviously a massive, massive win -- greatly facilitating life for developers who now need to provide and integrate multiple platforms and wrap metrics around their infinite permutations.

    No, I don't work for Google (grin). And generally, I'm a pretty hard sell on bright, new, shiny techno-stuff. But occasionally something comes along (like XML, like SIP) and you just go: "of course!"

  4. Betsy Kent from Be Visible Associates, October 1, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.

    I watched the video from May, and I was really excited about Wave. I do feel often that I have too many online modes of communication coming at me at any given time. With 2-3 email accounts, chat, twitter, IM, phone calls, Facebook messages, and more all demanding my attention at once, Google Wave to me seems like a way to put at least some of them together in one place. Will it be widely adopted? That remains to be seen.

  5. Heather Goff from Responsys, October 1, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.

    Thank you for articulating what Google Wave is so honestly and so well. I got even more excited about the trend you're observing as far as the way we communicate and collaborate. I agree media is blending together and I'm loving it. Swag makes a great point in asking himself if he has a need for this. However when I think about the way my new iPhone blends all these different ways I communicate into one device and how much comfort it brings me to know how easy it is for me to access, I think Google Wave could be HUGE and that it is new 'technology.' Ease of use in our collaboration is what drives adoption. Either way I'd love to have less and less a reason to save links and remember passwords and jump around and keep track. It gives me a headache. I'm excited to see what happens. Thanks for the great article.

  6. Heather Goff from Responsys, October 1, 2009 at 2:18 p.m.

    p.s. Michael, thanks for the tidbit on the Aussie product management team and the possible explanation for the hokey names, bloggy, linky, searchy and now tweety. Having lived there and having family there, Australian nick names make me smile.

  7. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, October 1, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.

    If I was the owners of Twitter and Facebook I would be scared and be trying to cash out ASAP. It is very possible between Wave and Motorola's Blur that social sites become the behind the scenes infrastructure that people use without ever actually going onto those websites. And if they don't go onto the websites bye bye advertising revenues.

  8. Heidi Moon, October 2, 2009 at 10:24 a.m.

    Good summary and analysis. I was another one of those who was pretty excited by watching the demo video.

    But am I the only one who cringed by the casual -- and to me, inappropriate -- use of the phrase "gang bang"? Yikes.

  9. Steve Brewer from FONA International, October 2, 2009 at 3:02 p.m.

    we've been using the socialtext platform for a few months, and i can see a lot of similar types of communication patterns there: wiki page editing, inserting of comments, collaborative editing, micromessaging, private IM client, etc...
    Google Wave, with just a few people working on a wave together, is going to seem frenetic. Its a good thing we've been exercising our multitasking mental muscles, because these waves will really stretch us.
    Google wave is a giant mash up, wrapped in hair ball, dynamically updating one key stroke at a time. It is going to be fun!

  10. Cyhyoung Park from CEC, October 6, 2009 at 9:37 p.m.

    Thanks for the insightful and well articulated view on Wave. I watched the video as well - it would be exciting if/when it becomes pervasive considering how scattered our online activities are. But as you said, more than that it's a cool tool, more important here is to recognize it's a signpost of a game-changing impending trend.

  11. Kristin Thompson from RedShift, October 28, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.

    I wasn't invited either. I still cry at night knowing I am not part of the party.

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