Catching the Wave: The Tool and the Project

So the first question everyone asks is, what the heck *is* Wave? There’s been a lot of contradictory opinion about that, but the next several articles will try to provide a little perspective.

You have to keep in mind that Wave is two very different things, right out of the gate. First, it’s a new tool from Google, that is currently in an early alpha release. It’s buggy as all get out, and we’ll talk about that more later, but it’s improving rapidly. It is in a pure invitation-only mode right now, as most Internet tools start out — you have to get someone you know to give you an invitation. Those invites were rare as diamonds in the beginning (thanks to Michael Kleber for getting me an early one), but successive rounds of growth have made them a little easier to get.

Second, it’s a new open protocol. Google is trying to make something really new and different here: a new online ecosystem that is as pervasive and important as email or IM or the Web. They know that they can’t do that on their own: plain and simply, they’re not that deeply trusted. So they are fostering efforts to build alternative versions of these ideas, and to standardize server-to-server communications: the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach. These other visions will come both in the form of open-source projects and commercial software — for an example of the latter, check out this announcement that Novell Pulse is planning to federate with Wave. (Thanks to Michael Kleber for pointing this out to me.)

So keep in mind that the current thing people will usually point to as “Wave” is just Google’s first-draft realization of these ideas. It was released a bit hastily (and perhaps a bit too early), and has lots of flaws, but this client is just scratching the surface here. There’s a lot of evolution yet to come here, both from Google and from other folks.

One thing Wave is not is email. In my opinion, Google did themselves a disservice by spreading the word that Wave is what email would be if it had been invented today, because it leads people to think of Wave as a new version of email. Put that out of your mind: the only thing Wave really has in common with email is that they are both conversational tools for sharing and collaboration. (Well, and they both have things called “Inbox”.) Wave has elements of email, but it also has elements of IM, forums and lots of other things.

An implication of that is that there actually isn’t all that much new about Wave, and a lot of people are dinging it for that. But that misses the point. Wave isn’t about radical new ideas, so much as it’s about a new way of combining a lot of old ideas. You’ll often hear it described as “Forums plus IM”, or “liveblogging plus email”, or something like that. It has elements of all of those, but the combination is what makes it interesting.

The discussion below will mostly be talking about Google Wave — that is, the initial Google client/server version. But the ideas here go far beyond Google, and much of the potential lies in what folks will do with both their tool and the larger architecture.

Next: The Nuts and Bolts

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3 Responses to “Catching the Wave: The Tool and the Project”

  1. Catching the Wave: Prologue « The Art of Conversation Says:

    […] Online Conversation in Communities « Fake Identity, coming to a lawsuit near you Catching the Wave: The Tool and the Project […]

  2. S Says:

    The problem with the folks like Google & Yahoo is that they have created many tools which have been loosely coupled. The challenge with such a solution is that the the information gets locked into multiple silos. With Google Wave they are trying to integrate all the conversations (discussions) but what would be truly desirable is a platform built form ground up using social networking at the base and business apps on top of it. I have tried Injoos Teamware (www.injoos.com) and found it captures both informal and formal knowledge like documents in one single workspace on the cloud.

    • Justin Says:

      I haven’t used Injoos, but I largely agree with your point — indeed, the most obvious difference between Wave and CommYou is that CommYou was fundamentally social-network-centric, and spent as much effort on that as on the conversational system itself.

      My gut feeling, through, is that we’ll get there. The Wave protocol deals with the conversational side of the problem — I *think* we’ll find that people begin to build social-network systems that pull that in and use it as a tool. I’m pretty sure that Google would encourage such moves: they are explicitly moving towards free integration of Wave into external systems. So while it’s not precisely starting from the social network and building up from there, I suspect it’ll wind up in the same place, reasonably well decoupled in the long run…

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