Some of the 6,000 programmers Google provided a developer preview for Google Wave, the experimental platform that blends e-mail, instant messaging and social networking in one communications palette, are raving about the application.
For most of us who can’t use it, their words are our guide until Sept. 30, which is when Google will set the Wave rolling out to 100,000 general population users who have signed up to test it from the Wave home page.
It’s early days for Wave, which is not expected to be commercialized for a couple years, but Wave has the potential to significantly augment, if not replace, some of the components in Google Apps. Google Apps includes Google’s Gmail, Google Docs, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Video for businesses and the Google Sites wiki app.
Google Wave, as it currently exists in prototype form, performs many of the functions of those apps. Ben Rometsch, technical director for Solid State Group, a content management and Web development agency based in London, provided the most detailed review of the prototype, which drew wild applause when it was introduced at Google I/O in May. Rometsch wrote July 21:
““… it’s a bunch of shared IM conversations that are organized like e-mail messages and stored on the server for time immemorial… It serves as an IM, IRC and E-mail server, but you can also do things that you might not necessarily first think of, such as using it as a simple wiki with shared editing and history… Gadgets let you drop in pretty much anything into a conversation; chess boards, maps, videos and anything else that people develop.” “
eWEEK July 22 asked Rometsch if Wave is the type of thing he would use in his business to replace Solid State’s existing communications tools. He said: yes, “in the future we will definitely be using it.”
“We’re not a big firm – 18 people, but we use a lot of different communications tools: Wiki, IM, IRC, e-mail, Google Calendar and I can see it replacing a lot of those,” Rometsch said.
Solid State Group is a small shop, but it could serve as a helpful blueprint for the promise of Wave in small and midsize businesses.
Many such shops are using legacy Microsoft Office and SharePoint applications, or Google Apps and other free or low-cost Web applications to communicate and share content. Still, once the bugs and crashing kinks are worked out, Wave could revolutionize the market for unified communication and collaboration tools as it exists.
Analysts Weigh In on Google Waves Business Prospects
Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler, who attended the Google Wave API Hackathon July 20, told eWEEK that while he expected Wave will be launched in the consumer market first, “it’s clear to me that if this mode of conversational collaboration takes off, that Google will find ways to offer it to the enterprise.”
A Google spokesperson told eWEEK it is too early to speculate on how this technology will fit in with Google Apps.
“That said, we see a number of great business uses for this next-generation collaboration and communication platform,” the spokesperson told eWEEK. “Also keep in mind that there are lots of modes of communication and collaboration thriving on the Web. People don’t tend to replace existing communication formats — they do more supplementing than substituting. Blogs didn’t replace Web pages; IM didn’t replace e-mail.”
Even if Google isn’t ready to proclaim Wave the future of collaboration just yet, Schadler is.
“I remain convinced that this blending of the real-time and asynchronous collaboration tools is the future of how project teams and other ad hoc groups get work done,” Schadler said. “And this is just the starting point for that blending of tools. The future also will include blending meeting software and team sites; voice & presence; video & presence; back-end data.”
Schadler’s colleague Sheri McLeish told eWEEK that Google could position Wave differently from Apps. “Much in the same way that you have various versions at a potentially higher cost, Google Apps may remain a lower cost entrance that would get people to Google, and then it would be an upsell.
From an enterprise perspective, even if it was available in a year or two, enterprises wouldn’t jump on Wave because these customers want to see new technologies vetted in the marketplace before making such a transition, she added.
Even if Wave proves to be so necessary and vital as to supplant some current Web communication and collaboration tools, such as standalone instant messaging tools, surely it would not replace e-mail, which has been around for some 40 years. Could Wave eventually replace e-mail systems such as Microsoft Outlook or Gmail?
In the simplest terms, Google would have to write a conduit between SMTP and Wave so that users weren’t bouncing from Wave to an e-mail client, Rometsch said. “But I think the crucial thing is that it will all be open source, and the API looks very clean so it will not be long before people are writing apps for it that build on top of the platform.”
However, IDC’s Robert Mahowald told eWEEK that while Wave could conceivably temper use of Gmail, the popularity of the inbox will persist because of the file transfer/store use case of e-mail.
Of course, that could change, too, if Google turns its Docs app into an online storage service, as today’s speculation suggests.