Sure, the developer preview is rough. But Google Wave's innovative collaboration metaphor, its customizability and its potential as a protocol make it compelling as a next-gen productivity tool.
This week, eWEEK Labs' Jim Rapoza reviewed
the developer preview edition of Google Wave
, the much-buzzed-about new
communications project that Google announced but didn't quite unveil at its I/O
developer conference in May.
I've spent a bit of time with Wave myself, and I met recently with Wave's
creators for a demonstration. I agree with Jim that the project is in a fairly
rough state right now. In contrast to the arguably over-applied
"beta" label, when Google calls Wave a developer preview, it
definitely means it.
Still, I find Wave very interesting and believe it can have a big impact on
the productivity application landscape if it's implemented well.
First, I like the wave metaphor for approaching the digital works that we
create. The life cycles of conversations and collaborative documents have their
crests and the troughs of activity as they accrue replies and edits. Actually,
I was having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept until Wave co-creator
Lars Rasmussen showed me a playback of a "real" wave used by his
group at Google.
The Wave playback began with one of the developers writing or pasting the
document into a new Wave-the term Google uses for fully stand-alone
discussions. The author then added collaborators to the Wave, and, soon, nested
discussions and document edits started popping up throughout the Wave. The Wave
swelled as collaborators added their comments and questions inline, and shrank
as the Wave's owner addressed and pruned back the additions. Finally, the edits
trailed off and the Wave settled into its finished form.
The process here isn't groundbreaking. What's compelling, though, is the way
that Google Wave rolls up all the particles of conversation and collaboration
that would have otherwise ended up scattered across various mailboxes, chat
logs and draft documents stored on the desktops of individual contributors.
Even better, the Wave playback option allows the team to strip out all these
artifacts of collaboration from the working draft without losing them
altogether-everything remains accessible through the Wave playback.
Besides the wave metaphor, the other element of Google Wave that intrigues
me is its support for robot participants, which can sit inside a Wave along
with human collaborators and carry out programmatic functions. These include
following behind you, correcting the formatting of the code you write, fetching
Twitter feed items and pasting them into your Waves, or returning Wikipedia
definitions for selected terms.
As with the rest of the project, the current state of Wave robots is rough,
but these little automatons offer a promising route for adding arbitrary
features to particular Waves without overloading every Wave with excessive
Finally, the most important part of the Google Wave initiative is that the
company is approaching Wave not only as a new application to add to its Apps
stable but also as a new protocol.
Such as protocol can achieve success only if it's adopted outside of
Google's campus walls (and network firewalls). Google has posted the draft
specification for the Wave protocol online, along with a broad-reaching license
for any Google patents that cover the technology. What's more, Google has
announced its plans to open source the code behind Wave.
As an application, Wave shows promise, but as I've written over the past
several weeks regarding Google and other Web application providers,
organizations must approach applications tied inexorably to a single provider
with caution. By pushing Wave forward as a protocol, complete with an
open-source reference implementation, Google is opening the door to a mix of
private and third-party hosted Wave clients and servers.
Google has a lot of bug squashing work to do before it opens the platform to
broader public access sometime near the end of this year or early next year.
And whether Wave picks up speed after that will depend on developer and user
uptake. Wave's appealing feature set and sustainable model for growth won't be
enough on their own to make Wave a success, but I'd say the project is off to a
Executive Editor Jason Brooks
can be reached at email@example.com.