At a press conference at Google I/O, the development team behind the new Google Wave product was bombarded with a bunch of forward-looking questions: Is this an e-mail killer? How does it integrate with other Google services? Who are the competitors? What about advertising? Consumers or businesses?
My head is still spinning from all of the cool stuff that was demonstrated during the keynote this morning so I'm just starting to get a grasp of what Google Wave is and might become. All of those other questions, while important, feel a bit premature.
Unlike many of Google's other new products and services, which seem to be stuck in beta forever or debut quietly in Google Labs, Google Wave comes across as a work in progress. You have to remember that this was launched at a developer's conference. For now, this is a product that's out there for developer's to play with. It's not ready for prime time, no matter how much appeal it might have today.
I've only spent a couple of hours thinking about Wave but here are my early thoughts:
- Is Wave an e-mail killer? I see Wave as more of an e-mail enhancer. E-mail, no matter how critical it's become to our everyday personal and professional lives, is an imperfect and inefficient way of communicating. One of the biggest problems is that many people use it to collaborate and share, as well as communicate. Anyone who's ever tried to coordinate a meeting with multiple people via e-mail knows how easy it is for folks to trip over each other's messages and how it's even easier for information to get lost in that back-and-forth.
- Does it work with other Google services? The team said users will eventually tap into it using the same Google sign-on they use to access Gmail, Docs, Maps and other Google tools. In terms of integrating those tools, there are signs of that already (search bars, Gmail contacts and maps, for example.) I'm
- Is there an advertising component here? Wouldn't we all be just a bit naive if we believed that conversations about how to monetize Wave hadn't yet taken place? With that said, the team spent the last two years holed up in Australia, operating almost like a start-up, to build Wave from the ground up. When members of that team say they don't know about the advertising component, you tend to want to give them the benefit of the doubt. But that doesn't mean that somewhere within Google, conversations about advertising opportunities within Wave haven't occurred.
- Who is the competition? Microsoft is a gimme, right? Yahoo, too. After all, with Wave, Google is bringing a number of tools - e-mail, instant messaging, picture sharing, document collaboration, blogging, tweeting and so on - into one Web-based window. Does that mean that users will abandon their Yahoo Mail or Hotmail (is it even called that anymore?) accounts and flock to Google Wave? That's a tough assumption. Instead, Wave may put Yahoo and Microsoft on a fast-track to come up with some sort of copycat product to hang on to their faithful users.
- Is this for consumers or businesses? Both. Already, the company has demonstrated the ability to wrap a company logo around Wave and integrate it behind the firewall, where companies can customize, build upon and otherwise tweak the service to meet their needs. As a fully open product, developers within a business can really have some fun with this.
Yesterday, the company declared programming for the Web to be the way to go for the future. Google officials talked at length about the importance of the browser in the future of computing. And they highlighted ways of bringing an online world to an offline environment, using tools like Google Gears.
Call it whatever you want - Cloud, Web-based, Online. Google is sticking hard by its mission of turning the browser into the always-on computing platform of the future. With Wave, the company isn't forcing anyone to adapt to a cloud approach that it envisions. Instead, it's tapping the same minds that came up with innovative uses for Google Maps in hopes that they will ride this wave, too.