Saturday, September 19, 2009

Catch a Wave

So I finally got around to watching Google's hour-and-a-half developer's preview of their new product Wave, which is due out this year. And I'm excited. First off, this thing is incredibly geeky--the name "Wave" came from Firefly (and this is no mere creative interpretation on my part--the crash notice is "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal"). But I also admire the chutzpah of this project.

The team that brought you Google Maps thinks they can do e-mail better than e-mail does it.

And they may be right, when you think about it. E-mail is forty years old--that's older than the internet. There are some limitations built into the model--you create a document and send it to someone, which is all well and fine in principle. But people have conversations more than they have correspondence, and e-mail soon begins to emulate that, which it isn't really meant to do. In a typical instance, it means that generally one person alone has the most recent part of that conversation. When you get into having multi-threaded conversations over e-mail (and anyone who has office e-mail knows that this happens all the damned time), that's when the model starts to noticeably break-down. People are replying to different threads, people joining the conversation miss out on the beginning, conversations fork.

Wave treats a Wave as a conversation. Rather than create a message to send to people, with Wave, you create a message/document/photo-album and invite others to participate in it. Anyone can see new information, replay the entire conversation, reply to isolated bits of it, fork and rejoin without disrupting the whole thing. It's a wholly different approach.

Coming back down to Earth for a second, nobody honestly thinks Wave is going to replace e-mail--e-mail is absolutely perfect for sending a message to another person quickly and cheaply without needing them to see it and respond in real time. But there are a few things that we use e-mail to do that Wave will be able to do better, particularly things that involve coordinating the efforts of a group of people that is larger than, say, two. This can be anything as complex as document editing to things as simple as a planning where to go for lunch. I anticipate us keeping it open at work at all times (a "standing Wave", if you will).

And the feature I find the most intriguing is the context-smart spellchecker. During the demo, someone typed the phrase "Icland is an icland" and the checker auto-corrected it to "Iceland is an island". I was impressed, and I'm excited. I hope it takes off. I worry that it might actually be overly ambitious--it does try to be several technologies at once, and things like that can collapse under their own weight. But the folks over at Google are pretty clever--if anyone can make this work, they can.

We'll find out this year.


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