Google just demoed a really great looking piece of technology at their own Google I/O conference. Called Google Wave, the platform takes a revolutionary new look at the normal protocols that we typically use to communicate online: email, instant messenger, and shared documents.
Personally, I was wondering when these signature communications interfaces would get a tune-up, especially email. Email has been around for even longer than the internet and despite several iterations over the decades, it feels like an antiquated system. Spam is a major problem that seems unsolvable by the current email system, but if we were to turn to anyone to fix spam, it would be Google, based on the stellar track record of Gmail.
Here’s the new interface…the image is kinda small, but that’s because it’s efficiently using an entire screen’s worth of real estate:
To make the concept of Wave clearer, let me set the stage. Instead of having a mail client open or a webmail page that you check infrequently, you’d have a tab open in your browser open at all times with your Google Wave page open. A lot of users already do this with Gmail and those users are probably the big target of the new Wave project. This open page would also serve as a replacement for a messenger client as well (like AIM, Digsby, Pidgin, maybe even Skype). More on that last part later.
The set-up, initially, seems very familiar. On the left is a buddy list of sorts (probably your Gmail contacts) and a menu. In the middle is essentially an inbox of all your “waves.” On the right, any specific wave can be viewed in its entirety.
The waves themselves are essentially a hybrid of email and IM. If the recipient IS NOT online it’s essentially an email that will alert that person of any updates when they return. If the recipient IS online, the wave turns into a realtime chat box, immediately transmitting each typed word, back and forth (this can be downgraded to the normal “so and so is typing” notification if desired). This type of hybrid system ALONE might revolutionize private communications, but the demo didn’t stop there!
I already mentioned the “send as you type” feature, but images work similarly. Having used a multi-protocol IM client for a very long time, I have experienced the joy of trying to send images and other files over these networks. Google Wave seems to simplify the system by rapidly accepting new images from anywhere, creating thumbnails first and THEN uploading the full sized image (a nice prioritization if you think about it). Images interact with the wave the way they would in a document (which brings the wave around to essentially being a very smart, fast shared document) and can easily be gathered up and displayed in a slideshow, no matter what user submitted them.
There’s a huge number of other tweaks and touches included in this early build, so if you want to see the whole demo, here it is:
My take on Google Wave is this: email still works, IM still works, but sometimes those of us who really understand technology and how it mixes with one’s lifestyle can glimpse different conceptual models of these systems. Google’s team is working to actualize one of these new models and maybe it will work out. I think the potential is definitely there. The only major roadblocks I see are interoperability issues (which are always solved by popularity later if the thing takes off) and reluctance to give up a separate IM client for messaging.
What are your thoughts? I’m eager to try this thing out and I hope you are too!