Google recently announced their most ambitious project to date called Google Wave. According to Google, Wave is “what email would look like if it was invented today.”

If you haven’t made time to watch the one hour video, I’d highly recommend you do so today.

What’s the big deal?

I believe there are six reasons why Wave is going to have a huge impact on you. However, this is all predicated on mass adoption of the technology. If no-one uses it, then obviously it won’t have a world-changing affect. However, I strongly believe Wave is going to achieve mass adoption for these reasons:

  1. Google has the world-wide audience necessary.
  2. Google has the cash in order to market Wave and promote its benefits.
  3. There is a huge financial benefit to working more efficiently. People who use Wave will be able to work faster, thus leaving behind those that stick to good-ol-fashion SMTP email.
  4. Wave is open-source (more on that below). If you want, you’ll be able to run Wave on your internal corporate network, without ever sending a single byte of data to Google.
  5. You can run it on the cloud, thus reducing in-house IT costs.

Now I’d like to explain why I think Wave is going to have a life-changing affect on you and your business:

1. Extensions

Google is making it easy to augment the power of Wave by writing Wave Extensions. These are similar to Firefox Add-ons and they fall into two areas: Robots and Gadgets. Here’s an explanation from the Extensions site:

  1. A robot is an automated participant on a wave. Robots are applications which run in the “cloud” and can modify state within the wave itself. A robot can read the contents of a wave in which it participates, modify the wave’s contents, add or remove participants, and create new blips and new waves. Robots perform actions in response to events. For example, a robot might publish the contents of a wave to a public blog site and update the wave with user comments. Check out the Robots API Overview and a Tutorial.
  2. A gadget is a small application that runs within a client. The gadget is owned by the wave, and all participants on a wave share the same gadget state. The only events a gadget responds to are changes to its own state object, and changes in the wave’s participants (for example, participants joining or leaving the wave). The gadget has no influence over the wave itself. Wave gadgets typically aren’t full blown applications, but small add-ons that improve certain types of conversations. For example, a wave might include a sudoku gadget that lets the wave participants compete to see who can solve the puzzle first. There’s a tutorial if you’re interested.

Screengrab of several Wave extensions

So why are Wave Extensions such a big deal? I believe that developers and designers will be able to sell Extensions to their clients or to a wider audience, possibly in an Extensions marketplace. This means a huge potential source of new income, providing there is mass adoption of Wave.

2. Embedding APIs

Google has created a huge API to Wave, but one of the really interesting parts is the ability to embed a Wave into any web page. A great example of how this could be used with blogging. You can create a Wave and then publish it to your blog. Then whenever someone comments on the blog post, it appears as a reply to you Wave in your Wave client – no need to visit the site.

That’s the kicker, embedded Waves remove the need to physically visit a site in order to interact with it. This is a fundamental, and very exciting, change to the way we currently interact with blogs and content.

Screengrab of an embedded Wave in a blog

So why is the Wave Embedding API such a big deal? It means that content is king and consuming it will become even easier. Really understanding this and taking advantage of it’s power will make you much more effective in reaching your audience.

3. Collaboration

The separation between documents and emails will be completely removed with Waves. This is because Waves can be edited by more than one person. A great example would be taking notes for a meeting. Here’s how it might work:

  1. I create a Wave titled “Notes from website branding project”
  2. I add the other people in the meeting as participants in the Wave
  3. Everyone who is a participant in the Wave can take notes simultaneously
  4. After the meeting, everyone’s got a copy of the notes

An added benefit is that people can “chat” during the meeting, by creating private replies right inside the Wave. The writer can choose whether or not to make this chat visible to other participants.

4. Open Source

Google doesn’t intend to ‘own’ Wave. They have open-sourced the technology and created the Wave Federation Protocol. A brief explanation from Google is:

[Wave Federation Protocol is] the underlying network protocol for sharing waves between wave providers.

Yes, that’s between wave providers: anyone can build a wave server and interoperate, much like anyone can run their own SMTP server. The wave protocol is open to contributions by the broader community with the goal to continue to improve how we share information, together.

To help potential wave providers get started, our plan is to release an open source, production-quality, reference implementation of the Google Wave client and server, as well as provide an open federation endpoint by the time users start getting access.

This means you can either use Wave hosted on Google’s infrastructure, or you can have it hosted on your own server, without ever interracting or sharing data with Google.

This makes it completely different from Microsoft Exchange Server, and even Google Apps (which isn’t available to host on your own infrastructure).

5. Google Web Toolkit (GWT)

Wave is written entirely in Google Web Toolkit. GWT allows you to write HTML 5 web apps in Java, which are then cross-compiled into optimized JavaScript. If you want to learn more, this video explanation is very helpful.

I’ve always been wary of auto-generated code, but I think this might be an exception to the rule (providing your ensure the HTML is accessible and standards-compliant). All you have to do is look at the Wave demo in order to realize GWT is seriously powerful.

What does this mean for you? I means if you’re a web developer, you need to have a serious look at GWT and the potential benefits it has to offer. Programming in Java gives you all the traditional benefits of breakpoints and being able to step through your code.

There is also a plugin for Eclipse if you’re interested.

6. Playback

The increased collaboration that possible with Wave might actually make it confusing for someone to be added to a Wave after a lot of editing and replies have been made. Enter ‘Wave Playback. The best way to explain it is by jumping to minute 13:00 on the Wave introduction video.

This feature allows you to step through the changes to a Wave as they happened over time.

What do you think?

Obviously we think Wave is a big deal, but what do you think? We’d love to hear your comments below.

If you’re interested, there are two other videos that are worth watching:

  1. Live Collaborative Editing: A short video explaining concurrency control and operational transformation in Google Wave
  2. Natural Language Processing: A short video explaining how Google uses their vast search history to implement spell checking.

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