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May 30, 2009

Google Wave: Five Things You Must Know

We're still waiting on what is expected to be an opportunity to play with Google Wave, the company's ambitious project to rework email, instant messaging, document sharing, and blogging. After doing some thinking, however, I wanted to highlight some of the points that intrigued me personally.

1.) Does Wave replace Gmail and Google Docs? I asked this question at the press conference. Vic Gundotra, who was referred to as the vice president of engineering at Google, danced around the answer, however. Wave does bring together Gmail and Google Docs, he said. However, he characterized Wave as "an early developer release". "Over the next several months we'll figure out how to bring these things together," he said, referring to Gmail and Docs.

Fortunately, other journalists kept at it. I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone if Wave became the evolution of Gmail, Docs, and maybe even Blogger. In a telling point, Rasmussen admitted that he would like "one communication tool for all my needs".

So who is Wave good for? The informal consensus among the people I talked to was that it would be a fun tool for tech-savvy young people, great for collaborative work in a corporate environment, and way too complicated for email-savvy grandparents. (Sorry.)

2.) The real-time aspect. There's been much ado about Twitter, and its real-time search capability, which provides any user with a real-time feed of what users are talking about. All of the acquisition rumors (which are all false, at this point) point to that engine as the meat of any transaction.

Well, here's the thing: Google Wave is real-time: real-time search of Waves, real-time linking, real-time remote control object manipulation (say I embed a map in a wave, and then manipulate it remotely while you're looking at it), real-time translation. (Yes, on a character-by-character basis. Imagine a Google Doc translating your words into Spanish as you type.)

3.) Real-time search. As you can see from the post above, real-time search is just one aspect of the real-time capabilities of Wave, so focusing on this one issue sort of misses the forest for the trees. But, in some ways, the air has just been let out of Twitter's sails.

To recap: Lars Rasmussen, the project lead for Google, saved a wave with the title of "wav", minus the final "e". Stephanie Hannon, the project manager and co-presenter, began a search for "wave," with an "e". No results. Rasmussen re-saved as "wave". Pop! The search immediately turned up Rasmussen's result. Rasmussen then resaved as "wav". Poof! It vanished. The two went back and forth several times in several seconds. A parlor trick, but an impressive one nonetheless.

But here's what hasn't been made clear: is the real-time capability across all Waves? Or just the ones that you have interacted with or is in your circle of friends? I asked Gundotra whether Google could ever position its search page as a *ahem* Live Search. Gundotra's response, was, essentially, that Google is constantly improving its response time to get close to real-time results, but that real-time is an absolute that will be approached, but never actually met.

4.) Mobile waves. Not surprisingly, Rasmussen said he sees the mobile experience as one that's absolutely essential to the future of Wave, especially as more and more people generate and consume content while on the go. Gundotra also highlighted an on-stage demo where both an Android phone and an iPhone ran Wave via the Google Web Toolkit, proving that the browser is indeed the OS of the future. There are no plans for a native iPhone Wave app, Hannon said.

Bonus point: waves can be embedded in Web sites, and Web site operators will be able to determine how they handle them, Rasmussen said.

5.) Fighting spam. Although Gmail does an excellent job fighting spam, some does get through. And spammers have become adept at sending you unwanted ads on your mobile phone, via Facebook, and through other media.

Google has had some of its "top security guys spreading magic crypto fairy dust" on Waves to ensure they have come from who they say they come from, Rasmussen said, as well as to ensure that they haven't been altered. Google also plans to whitelist contacts.
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