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Friday, May 29, 2009

Is Google Wave the future of email?

Is Google Wave the future of email?

Google has unveiled its vision of the future of email.

Google Wave is a hybrid of email and instant messaging which opens inboxes to the real-time sharing of text, video, maps and even social network feeds. The aim is to make online communication more dynamic, more collaborative and more useful.

Google offered the first glimpse of its latest offering during the company's annual conference for software developers. Other internet users will not be able to surf Google Wave until later in the year.

By the time Wave rolls out for everyone, Google hopes independent programmers will have found new ways to use the service.

The company is counting on developers to figure out how to weave Wave into the popular services like Twitter, social networks like Facebook and existing e-mail services, according to Lars Rasmussen, a Google engineering manager.

A "wave" is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly-formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Wave's users invite others to join their "wave" about a particular topic so they can all follow the thread of messages. Everyone on the list can see individual messages as they are typed, letter by letter, in real-time.

Users can drag and drop photos and maps onto the wave to make them immediately visible to others. They can also edit documents or blogs together, potentially appealing to workers who are collaborating on a project. The feature is aimed at consumers and businesses.

You can even collaborate over a real-time game of chess.
Mr Rasmussen and his brother, Jens, helped build Google's online mapping service. The Rasmussens switched from that in 2006 to concentrate on building a service that would enable email and instant messaging to embrace the web's increasingly social nature. They contend email has barely changed since its invention during the 1960s.

They started with three basic questions:

Why do we have to live with divides between different types of communication — email versus chat, or conversations versus documents?

Could a single communications model span all or most of the systems in use on the web today, in one smooth continuum? How simple could we make it?

What if we tried designing a communications system that took advantage of computers' current abilities, rather than imitating non-electronic forms?

"We started out by saying to ourselves, `What might e-mail look like if it had been invented today?'" said Lars Rasmussen, who worked on Wave in Australia with his brother and just three other Google coders.

I think Wave has some very interesting possibilities and the point about the lack of dynamism in email exchanges is well made. But I don't much like the cluttered look of the user interface presented so far. But I suspect that will get better once the designers and the developers get going.

There are more details and the demo at Google I/0 available here but beware - the video is 80 minutes long.