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.
Startups Embrace Real-Time Collaboration
Perhaps the biggest mystery is what companies will do to build on top of the Wave platform. British Telecom’s Ribbit VOIP (voice over IP) arm, which enables users to make voice calls from their PCs, plans to launch telephony-based gadgets built specifically for the Google Wave platform.
“It’s a time of experimentation,” said Schadler. “We see many companies and plenty of vendors, including all the big collaboration and productivity vendors, looking at new forms of document-based collaboration.”
Indeed, Wave isn’t the only company embracing real time for collaboration. AppJet’s Etherpad, created by former Googlers, offers many of the real-time editing and collaboration features Wave provides.
“We will be looking into the Wave platform with great interest,” wrote AppJet COO Daniel Clemens in a blog post one week after the first Wave demo at I/O. “Interoperability with Wave is a possibility, if it fits with our mission of providing the best user experience we can.”
Another startup, Watchitoo, makes a platform that allows users to share content while communicating in real time, granting users the ability to conduct video chats and share content in real time.
Currently targeted for consumers, Watchitoo will introduce a white-label offering for businesses in October, a spokesperson for the company told eWEEK. This will include document sharing in addition to the video sharing Watchitoo currently offers.
Other vendors see potential to augment Wave. ActionBase believes Wave would benefit from its marriage of business process management and collaboration tools.
ActionBase CTO Jacob Ukelson said that if Google wants to drive adoption of Google Wave in the enterprise, the company will need to add more reporting and business intelligence capabilities, add user management and access control mechanisms, and allow people to use other e-mail systems with Wave.
Currently, ActionBase is focused on Microsoft Office and Outlook, but Ukelson did not rule out working with Wave in the future.
Clearly, Google isn’t alone in the real-time collaboration conversation. But its clout and marketability is already creating a long tail of buzz smaller companies can capitalize on. The question is: Can Google capitalize on its next preview this Wednesday?
“I would say that this next step for Google Wave is an important step in its development,” Schadler said. “But if it fails to catch on like wildfire, that doesn’t mean that the ideas or the application is wrong; it might just mean that the magic formula to turn people away from e-mail hasn’t been found just yet.”