Google unveiled a new online communications tool Thursday at its annual Google I/O Developer's Conference. Called "Google Wave", the new system sets its sights pretty high: replacing email, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, and static documents. If anybody can do it, it just might be Lars Rasmussen, creator of the wildly popular Google Maps application.
"We tried to imagine what email might look like if it were invented today," said Lars during a keynote address to a packed house of developers. And what an imagination it is. After a masterful series of demonstrations, Lars and his team received a standing ovation that even Steve Jobs would be envious of.
Observing this from the front row I could tell he was moved and energized by the reaction. Heck, *I* was moved and energized by it, as you could probably tell if you followed my twitter feed.
So what is Google Wave?
Google Wave is different things to different people. To ordinary users, it's a souped-up version of GMail that includes tons of new features like an eerily accurate spell checker, the ability to edit messages after sending them, carry on conversations in real-time seeing everything the other person types as soon as they type it, adding comments to the middle of a message, adding people at any point in a conversation and letting them see the full context and history of who said what, drag-n-drop attachments, and more.
To Ajax web developers Google Wave is a way to embed interactive social content like threaded comments into their web site. To server-side developers it's a way to manipulate and mash up content on the server from various sources. To gadget developers it's a new platform for creating interactive extensions. To the corporate IT department, it's a way to get the latest communications technology without giving up control of data on internal servers and networks. And to big media/social companies like Yahoo! and Microsoft it's an opportunity to finally tie together the mesh of formerly incompatible mail, messaging, document, and account systems through Federation.
On the shuttle ride to the airport I sat next to a guy from IBM who said they've had all this for 10 years in the form of Lotus Notes and Domino. There are similarities, but differences too. First, Wave will be open sourced, with an open protocol that anyone can use and implement without charge. Second, the clients we saw during the demo were web based.
Using the newfound power of HTML5, the Wave client can run inside any modern browser (even IE, eventually). Maybe there's something to this interweb thing after all.