The second day keynote address at Google I/O was sure to be full of surprises. After all, at yesterday's keynote, the company gave attendees an unlocked Google Android phone so developers could start tinkering immediately. Then, a buzz filled the conference as word spread that Wednesday's keynote was a "must-attend" event.
Today's news: a peek at Google Wave, a new "conversation" type service that Google is hoping to reinvent e-mail, IM and group conversations - with the help of developers at the event. The product won't be released to the public until later this year but it's more than just a product. The company is calling it an open source platform that developers can build on, just as they did for products like Google Maps. (Official Google blog post about Wave)
Yesterday, I chimed in on the inefficiencies of e-mail. Wave looks to change that. It starts off like an email between two people but quickly becomes more. It allows users to post "replies" to parts of the email - for example, the questions at the top of the sender's message about weekend adventures and again further down to confirm next week's meeting location. (click image for larger view of "inbox")
In normal e-mail messages, it would take a dozen or more back and forth emails between the two people - and exponentially more messages as other people get added to the conversation - to have the same conversations. One cool feature the company showed off was the ability to "playback" the message - to show how it evolved - for people who were added to the conversation late.
The service also incorporates well with other sites, such as blogging services and photo albums and includes some robotic-like features, such as adding a bot user called Bloggee, which takes the conversation or the images attached (with a cool drag and drop feature) and populate a blog post with it. It even becomes, via extensions, a third-party Twitter app.
The service has a lot of flexibility that makes it more of a collaboration tool than a communications tool. But it has the ability to be both - and more. All of the communications appear in real-time, including the ability to see what others are typing as they type - even if they're all typing at the same time. (It was actually an impressive demo)
There's also the ability to launch a private conversation within the group, such as a side message to someone in the conversation without letting everyone read it. (I think of this as whispering in someone's ear or slipping that person a note in a meeting.)
It's interesting that Google unveiled Wave early, especially since the demo had a couple of buggy moments. But Google wants to be able to offer more functionality when it opens the service later this year and is hoping that developers will embrace Wave the same ways they embraced Google Maps.
As a perk for attending the conference, attendees get an early account so they can start playing with it. A video of this morning's presentation at Google I/O will be posted to the Google Wave home page later today.
updated: As the demo ended (with an extremely cool translation tool), I witnessed a first (for me): a standing ovation for a tech conference keynote presentation. The developers seem to be pretty excited about getting their hands on Wave and building new features, tools and services for it.