The time for fun, buggy demonstrations with select media and analysts is over. Google's Wave collaboration platform will soon face its first true test when the company rolls it out to 100,000 consumer and business users.
Google Sept. 30 will make the service, which lets users send instant messages, share documents and videos, and co-edit content in real time, available for users who offered to help report bugs when they signed up on the Google Wave site.
Let's take a step back and see how Google got here. Google in July made Wave available to thousands of developers to test, and open-sourced key components of Wave. Wave co-creators Lars and Jens Rasmussen promoted the platform with hack days for the open-source Wave API, and demonstrated the platform for press and media.
Google took another major step in getting Wave ready for broader adoption Sept. 22 when it launched Google Chrome Frame, an open-source plug-in that enables Chrome's Webkit rendering engine to run in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
Essentially, the tool turns IE into the Chrome Web browser. From a technological perspective, Google did this because IE does not adequately handle HTML5, which is what Wave is based on. From a business perspective, IE boasts the biggest market penetration at 67 percent, giving Wave the broadest platform possible. When Google launches Wave Sept. 30, it will encourage IE users to install Google Chrome Frame to better enable Wave in their Chrome browsers.
All of these steps are a lot of build up to let a sampling of the general public preview Wave, which wowed observers when Google unveiled it at Google I/O in May. Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler said Google can use these 100,000 users as a big petri dish of experimentation.
"Because Google Wave requires people to think about working differently, it's not clear yet what the sweet spot will be," Schadler said. "However, you can bet that vendors and CTOs will be watching this with interest to see what develops."
To be sure, Wave is a break from the traditional, more narrow way of communicating via e-mail or instant messaging, which enable one-to-one exchanges. Anyone who joins a Wave can message anyone else on the Wave, and edit what others write.
For the uninitiated, Wave can be a daunting, unmitigated free-for-all of chatter. End users will have to adapt to this and decide if it is the right application for their personal and/or professional lives.