The enterprise implications of Google Wave

The enterprise implications of Google Wave

Summary: Google announced their forthcoming service known as Wave this week to widespread coverage in both the press and blogosphere. Created by many of the same team members that created the highly successful Google Maps, the preview of the service itself on Thursday was quite compelling, resulting in a rare standing ovation at a tech conference according to ZDNet’s own Sam Diaz. Its egalitarian and federation-friendly design is intended to create an entire open ecosystem for communication and collaboration that Google is not-so-modestly touting as the reinvention of digital interaction circa 2009.

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Google has launched many communication services since its inception yet none of these have had such obvious business utility or attempted to reinvent the collaborative process from the ground-up.Google announced their forthcoming service known as Wave this week to widespread coverage in both the press and blogosphere.

Created by many of the same team members that developed the highly successful Google Maps, the preview of the service itself on Thursday was quite compelling, resulting in a rare standing ovation at a tech conference according to ZDNet's own Sam Diaz. Its egalitarian and federation-friendly design is intended to create an entire open ecosystem for communication and collaboration that Google is not-so-modestly touting as the reinvention of digital interaction circa 2009.

This is clearly a tall order, but the Internet leader provides plenty of substance to back up this vision despite growing evidence that individual companies may be losing the capacity to drive the agenda for the world when it comes to establishing successful new Internet standards and technologies. While the ultimate destiny of Wave itself is far from clear, it's both intriguing and open enough that it will likely emerge on the radar of businesses large and small when it becomes widely available later in the year.

Google Wave

Wave's relevance to the enterprise might seem premature with so many of the early and current Web 2.0 applications (blogs, wikis, social networks, Twitter-style social messaging, mashups, etc.) still -- often arduously -- making their way into the workplace years after their inception. Though we seem to finally be hitting a tipping point with 2.0 tools at work, Wave itself seems credible enough to get on our watchlists, at least to understand the implications.

The real question is whether there are really such significant gaps in the current state of Web-based communication that we need something new like Wave. With Google's tendency to emphasize the consumer world first and the enterprise later, it's also valid to ask if Wave will really have much impact on businesses. Interestingly, you might be surprised at some of the answers, so let's take a look.

Wave: A communication and collaboration mashup

Google Wave itself consists of a dynamic mix of conversation models and highly interactive document creation via the browser. Using simple, open Web technologies (Google makes much of the fact that most of Google Wave is a open set of formats and architectures that is jointly developed with the Web community) Wave combines many of the key features of e-mail, instant messaging, media sharing, and social networking into a seamless experience and data set that are eponymously known as waves. All of this is opened up to developers via the Google Wave API.

The demonstration at the introduction of Google Wave (link below) showed how users can interact in real-time, collaboratively creating structured conversations that contain rich media, instant notifications, simultaneous user editing of the conversation, and live integration with server-side resources such as spell-checking and language translation. Most interestingly, while waves are relatively self-contained and use their own types of servers and data formats, they are easy to embed elsewhere or to build extensions for, enabling virtually infinite options for distribution over the Web or within the firewall, as well as rapid integration with existing applications and data. In fact, a wave is almost a form of social glue between people and the information they care about. And as we'll see, this has implications for the enterprise world, not only with SOA but also with social communication in general as well as Enterprise 2.0 specifically.

See Waves in action: Watch the introduction keynote at Google I/O on Thursday.

What Google has done with the Wave protocol is essentially create a new kind of social media format that is distinctively different from blogs, wikis, activity streams, RSS, or most familiar online communication models except possibly IM. Both blogs and wikis were created in the era of page-oriented Web applications and haven't changed much since. In contrast, Google Wave is designed for real-time participation and editing of shared conversations and documents and is more akin to the simultaneous multiuser experience of Google Docs than with traditional blogs and wiki editing. Though Google is sometimes criticized for missing the social aspect of the Web, that is patently not the case with waves, which are fundamentally social in nature. Participants can be added in real-time, new conversations forked off (via private replies), social media sharing is assumed to be the norm, and connection with a user's contextual server-side data is also a core feature including location, search, and more.

The result is stored in a persistent document known as a wave, access to which can be embedded anywhere that HTML can be embedded, whether that's a Web page or an enterprise portal. Users can then discover and interact with the wave, joining the conversation, adding more information, etc. Google has also leveraged its investments in Google Gadgets and OpenSocial, two key technologies for spreading online services beyond the original boundaries of the sites they came from. All in all, Google Wave is a smart and well-constructed bundle of collaborative capabilities with many of the modern sensibilities we've come to expect in the Web 2.0 era including an acutely social nature, rapid interaction, and community-based technology.

As the original announcement post explained, to fully understand Google Wave, one should appreciate the separation of concerns between the product Google is offering and the protocols and technologies behind it, which are open to the Web community:

Google Wave has three layers: the product, the platform, and the protocol:

  • The Google Wave product (available as a developer preview) is the web application people will use to access and edit waves. It's an HTML 5 app, built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions like desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).
  • Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.
  • The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the "live" concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone's Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave.

The key here is that Google is expecting many more front-ends for creating and editing waves, depending on the individual requirements of various entities. Google Wave is their own front-end application for doing so and using HTML 5 in their wave client shows they are planning more for the future than present.

An enterprise perspective of Google Wave

But Google's point is well taken: The hodge podge of 1990s era (and often older, in the case of e-mail) Internet communication methods were created in another time. Blogs, wikis, IM, and so on are all useful modes of communication but there are better ways and new requirements in today's high social, interactive, and highly integrated times. That's not to say that many companies haven't tried to do this already, but virtually none of them have the ability to drive the modern development community or use their existing online market share to foster adoption in the end-user marketplace like Google does. In the end, barring a major misstep from Google, chances are good that organizations will have to deal with business data in the Wave Protocol format in the future.

Using Google Wave in the Enterprise

Let's take a closer look at what enterprises need to know about Google Wave:

  • Google Wave largely complements and doesn't replace existing communication and collaborative applications. Google Wave creates a healthy synthesis of existing application types by providing integration across channels already in place. The early demos in fact showed how Twitter and existing social networks can play very well with Google Wave, enhancing the experience and allowing broader participation in a wave through other applications. Google Wave won't (necessarily) replace existing apps like e-mail, IM, blogs, or wikis, and can actually make the latter two stronger through embedding. Groupware and other simultaneously collaborative apps, however, are more at risk of displacement.
  • Enterprise 2.0 is well supported by Google Wave. The general capabilities of FLATNESSES, my mnemonic for all the things that a capable Enterprise 2.0 platform should do, is well embodied in Google Wave. While blogs and wikis are the fundamental Enterprise 2.0 platforms, the basic capabilities of social interaction, emergence, and freeformedness are all there, though a wave presupposes a bit more structure and situated use than the more tabula rasa blog or wiki.
  • New protocols, servers, data formats, and client applications are required to use wave. Unfortunately, Google Wave brings a lot of baggage with it, though it's mostly straightforward. You will require new software, though not on the client since that all runs in a zero-footprint browser client. This means more integration code, management, and monitoring. The best news is that everything is well-documented, open, and any organization can participate in directing the wave community, so lock-in, while always possible, seems largely avoidable and Google takes great pains to draw us to that conclusion. Google is also pushing hard for alternative implementations of the client and server components, including on-premise implementations, with the former on display at their announcement.
  • Waves are a natural integration point for many enterprise services including ECM, SOA, mashups, and more. By defining a strong protocol for continuous server-side processing of live conversations, Google has enabled an entire world where our IT systems are connected to the work we do every day. Literally while participants are busy typing and collaborating, a wave can be receiving support from back-end systems such as HRM, CRM, ERP, and so on to provide data, context, and other just-in-time support. Many businesses could benefit enormously from seamless business data integration such as customers, orders, and so on, never mind the deeper possibilities of contextual business processes leveraged directly in the collaborative activities of workers. I've written many times about the convergence of our IT systems and Web 2.0, and this seams one of the more natural environments for it that I've seen in a while.
  • Embedding and extensions will enable widespread distribution and consumption of waves. Google brings ease-of-development for creating server-side extension as well as simple models for user-distribution of waves. While the first will enable easy integration with local data sources and will create a large aftermarket for useful extensions such as the aforementioned language translation capabilities, the second will virtually ensure that enterprises will have interaction with waves one way or another. Since the premise of the product is also one of the dominant activities in the business world (enabling teamwork) and combined with the increasing consumerization of the workplace, it's highly likely that organizations will encounter waves in their work with external entities, especially with partners and clients. At the very least, organizations will need to understand how waves will make their organizations even more porous on the Internet, and have policies about participating in them, just like SaaS services, social networks, and other external applications. Security will also be an issue with waves though things like integration of Web 2.0 tools and ECM will actually be easier than ever before since a corporate archive robot could ensure every wave conversation is backed up in the formal ECM system.

Google has launched many communication services since its inception including Gmail, Gtalk, Blogger to name just three, yet none of these have had such obvious business utility or attempted to reinvent the collaborative process from the ground-up. While it's always possible that Google Wave will never broadly take off (see Mary Jo Foley's analysis of Wave here), I'm betting that it's likely to be one of the most interesting offerings to businesses that the company has created yet. With the open positioning, early outreach to the world, and the clarity of purpose and design, Google Wave has a good shot at helping take Enterprise 2.0 to the next level in many organizations.

It's much too soon to really decide anything about Google Wave yet, but are you putting it on your watch list? Put your comments in Talkback below.

Topics: Google, Browser, Collaboration

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Talkback

43 comments
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  • Waves will also be used as mashups

    Thanks for this detailed analysis, Dion! I would like to add another arrow to your chart. In my opinion, one important application of waves will be mashups. Waves will use gadgets that integrate information, messages and features from business application just like portlets in todays portals. This will help to bring business apps right to the users "inbox".
    DirkRoehrborn
    • I think that Waves will be used for all kinds of collaboration.

      Like a simple documentation project. You start the wave, add the people like tech writer, sales, engineer, etc, with the combined knowledge necessary.There are discussion threads that are not part of the final documentation. You have a number of go-arounds, and finally get the content how you like it. The tech writer does a final clean up, a graphical artist adds logos, etc, and it is then linked to off of the website. Now that it is live on the website, with any edits, you use a working copy, and only re-publish when you are finished. Simple corrections could go live right away.
      DonnieBoy
    • Because.

      you don't want to customer(users) uses two separates system, you don't want to train twice and you don't want double the work of the system administrator.
      mashups can be fine for some specific projects, otherwise it can become a mess.
      magallanes
    • How about workflows

      A wave can be used as a workflow where different people
      perform tasks and update the status. The video shows
      that you can use forms in a wave so this will have many
      uses.... Simple and ingenious.
      prof123
  • RE: The enterprise implications of Google Wave

    There is more than meets the eye. http://www.corvalius.com/blog/?p=40
    redknightlois
    • Great article!! Thanks for the link. Yes, behind the scenes, the sync

      problems are EXTREMELY complicated!!! Google needs to open source it ASAP and let all of the big brains in the world help to make it better. I can imagine an explosion of university research based on this.

      Wave could turn into a platform to create all kinds of different collaborative applications.

      They need some kind an Apache modules approach (dynamically loading shared objects) to allow adding the syncing of different file types, or whatever way that makes sense for functionality to be added.
      DonnieBoy
  • What the . . . .

    "despite growing evidence that individual companies may be losing the capacity to drive the agenda for the world when it comes to establishing successful new Internet standards and technologies."

    What in the world does this mean? Who else is there to create the standards and technologies?
    CobraA1
    • Clear to me, read it again. (nt)

      nt
      Economister
    • Very clear to me too. Especially anything that is proprietary.

      If you open source the base code, open all protocols, and involve a large swath of companies and organizations, release control, and it is compelling, you will have a good shot, otherwise, NO.
      DonnieBoy
      • Not so clear

        "If you open source the base code, open all protocols, and involve a large swath of companies and organizations, release control, and it is compelling, you will have a good shot, otherwise, NO."

        I wouldn't say it's quite so clear cut. Even with all of this open source stuff, there's still often a large business behind it.

        Sometimes it's proprietary software running on open protocols and file formats. After all, protocols and file formats don't say that you have to use open source software to use them, even if the protocol or file format is open.

        Sometimes even something totally open is a big business - after all, there is a Red Hat Inc behind Red Hat!

        Also, a lot of protocols, even if open, have a [b]lot[/b] of proprietary backing. Go through the W3C membership list - a lot of companies that develop proprietary software are behind the open formats we enjoy on the Internet. Including Microsoft!

        So - the end of businesses having a say in formats and protocols? Nah.
        CobraA1
        • If it is just one business though, almost impossible these days. And,

          open source is by no means a requirement, but, an royalty free standard that all con implement is. It is just that an open source implementation really greases the skids and makes it easy for anyone to rapidly create an implementation, including smaller players.
          DonnieBoy
  • RE: The enterprise implications of Google Wave

    this is what i see.....
    bluh bluh wave server bluh bluh what do you think bluh bluh, what are waves?
    slumtwit
  • Pros & Cons

    Waves REALLY looks promising!

    Perhaps it exists already but, if not, it might be useful to see a comparision (pros/cons) between the current communication model & the Wave communication model.
    linuser
    • Biggest cons may be security and privacy.

      Biggest cons may be security and privacy. Doesn't look like it has much in terms of security or privacy.
      CobraA1
      • No more or less a problem than email. And, just like email, you should

        should assume anything you write could become public one day.
        DonnieBoy
        • Not an excuse.

          Not an excuse. It's a newer technology - it should have the latest and best in security and privacy.
          CobraA1
  • never take off?

    "While it?s always possible that Google Wave will never broadly take off (see Mary Jo Foley?s analysis of Wave here)"

    I think you're jumping the gun a bit here, and kinda misrepresenting what she said. It was sorta a partial criticism of Google acting a bit like Microsoft.

    Which means, frankly, that it has a [b]good[/b] chance of taking off. Whether you like them or hate them because of their actions, the truth is that what Microsoft does works. Microsoft succeeded.

    So just because you may not like Microsoft's actions doesn't mean that what they did was ineffective, okay? Google actually has a good chance with this, and just because you may see their actions as being a bit "too much like Microsoft" doesn't mean that what they are doing is going to be ineffective.

    . . . and now that I read it, I'm wondering if Mary Jo really said anything to the effect of what you are implying. Where did she say at all that this might not take off?
    CobraA1
    • I don't quite agree...

      While I agree that he may be jumping the gun on what Foley said on her blog....MS stuff does not take off anymore. They certainly haven't done anything recently that has taken off like say Android or the way Wave most likely will. I think MS had its hay day with Windows Office and Exchange. Quite honestly Wave appears to be a threat not only to Exchange but Office as well.
      storm14k
      • Android and predictions

        Android? That has taken off among geeks, but I think the biggest takeoff has been the iPhone among regular consumers.

        Of course, neither is Microsoft.

        So - the question is, can Microsoft make something that takes off?

        Sure.

        Coming up with a new product that everybody uses is hard to do and extremely difficult to predict. Both Microsoft and Google are trying new things, and it's anybody's guess what will happen.

        BUT - it's not as if Microsoft is a failing company. They're still doing very well. What they do works.

        Frankly, the new invention market is about as unpredictable as it gets. Nintendo, which people dismissed out of hand after the GameCube didn't do so well, pulled off a huge surprise with the Wii.

        Anything's possible, frankly. The general public has proven to be nowhere near as predictable as we tend to think it is.
        CobraA1
      • Evidently...

        You've never heard of a little product called SharePoint! However, Wave looks to have the potential to threaten it too.
        MikeyTheUnderdog