About 5 days ago Google previewed their new Wave communication service at the Google I/O conference, and already the web is abuzz about it. A search for "Google Wave" returns over 33 million results, and there are over 30 tweets for "Google Wave" posted in the last 5 minutes (and another 20 while I wrote this sentence). Needless to say this is one of the biggest product announcements to come from Google in the last few years and has completely outshined Microsoft's announcement of rebranding their search engine from Live to bing. While Microsoft tries to gain ground in online search, Google has been planning ways to change how people communicate and collaborate online.
Google Wave is set to be released later this year and will combine features commonly found in IM, Email, Forums, Social Websites, and Wikis to create a unified communication platform designed for the modern web. It is based on HTML 5, which means it will run in a web browser but should feel a bit more like a desktop app in terms of response and the way a user interacts with the service. It also has some cool features like real time updates from multiple users, conversation playback, and advanced spellchecking using natural language processing.
The product is currently in a closed beta stage that is only open to developers that want to build applications or extensions on top of the Wave platform and protocol. The Google team thinks that one of the big drivers for success of email over the last 25 years has been that it was built using an open protocol that anyone could implement. The Wave protocol was designed to mimic the same type of system where servers from different providers can interoperate with each other using an open source federation protocol. Google has a vision for how to improve online communication, but they also are aware that to succeed they need to share with all the other kids in the neighborhood.
It is way to early to separate the hype from reality, but if Google's track record is any indication then this has a lot of potential to have a large impact one way or another. I use Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar on a regular basis nowadays, and it is hard for me to envision working without those type tools without taking a large drop in productivity. Also the Google Wave team is lead by the same two guys that created Google Maps, so they have a lot of experience in creating these types of highly interactive applications.
If you want more information you can watch this 80 minute presentation demonstrating Google Wave or go to http://wave.google.com to sign-up to be notified when it is publically available. I guarantee that you will hear more about this in the future, as it truly does show potential for a new way to communicate online.