Will Google Wave topple the email status quo and change the way we work?

15 Oct 2009

A little more than two weeks ago, the folks at Google began rolling out a preview version of a new web tool known as Wave to a limited 100,000 users. With mixed reviews, it has been labelled everything from “game-changing” to “unremarkable”.

What is Google Wave? It’s a combination of email, instant messaging and collaborative work tool all within your web browser. It is early days yet, but Wave may have the potential to transform how you work with both colleagues and clients.

While many businesses already use collaborative tools such as Microsoft OneNote, what Google Wave will do when it is released publicly later this year is bring this kind of functionality to the masses as it has previously done with document collaboration through Google Docs.

Ride the Wave

There are several obvious reasons why businesses and individuals would begin using Wave: “It’s free, there is no client, it’s on the web, it’s cross-platform and it’s from Google,” says software developer and author of the iPhone application Pocket Universe John T Kennedy.

“It could be great for meetings: everyone sits around the desk with their laptops and adds notes. By the end of the meeting, everyone has a copy of the minutes. It’s engaging and efficient.”

The killer features, he explains, are the fact that Wave is hosted in the cloud, so you don’t need one party to host it on their server, and it doesn’t have the hassle of sending out invites and requiring authentication like most ‘webinar’ services.

“Making it web-based is ideal, as anyone on your contact list can chime in. I hope Google Wave brings this collaboration to everyone: being able to work with other developers and share code and ideas, or with designers, is something I’m looking forward to,” says Kennedy.

Move over, email

What about Wave taking over as the email killer? Not so fast! Although, email isn’t ideal for all online communications. “I think in some cases it will replace email streams, which is no bad thing at all,” says Darragh Doyle, community manager at Boards.ie.

“I can see myself getting involved in project and event planning as well as the live editing of releases or statements, which need to be published that day. Certainly, for anyone involved in publishing web content, it’s going to be useful.”

Google Wave may be in the early stages, but it is already starting to emerge as a serious business-collaboration tool: “I think it will be ‘structured’ conversation around a specific event, project or idea rather than the random, public chats happening on places like Boards.ie, Twitter and the like,” says Doyle.

Wave will begin to get interesting as we see how it affects project management when more people get involved in collaborative efforts early on, he adds.

“If it does one thing, it will start people thinking: ‘So what could we do on this, together?’ Watching the results will be very interesting indeed.”

Google Wave at work

Imagine the back and forth sending of emails, tracked documents, buried image attachments and phone calls being dumped in favour of one tool that allows a mixture of these, save for Google Voice, which looks ideal to add to the future mix.

Essentially, Google will have brought out a free, platform-agnostic unified communications tool.

“What is good is the way it has been shown that Google Wave can integrate with existing platforms,” says John Breslin, co-founder of Boards.ie and lecturer in the School of Engineering and Informatics, National University of Ireland, Galway.

“For example, there’s a nice demo showing how Google Wave plus MediaWiki (the software that powers Wikipedia) can be used to help editors who are simultaneously editing a wiki page.

“If it can be done for wikis, it could aid with lots of things relevant to online communities.  For example, moderators could see what other moderators are online at the same time, communicate on issues such as troublesome users or posts with questionable content and then avoid stepping on each other’s toes when dealing with issues.”

Compared to Gmail

Wave most likely will not crash and burn, but it is perhaps not going to be quite the tsunami that Gmail was: “Gmail was a huge step forward. Wave is a baby step on from that, but has the potential to become much more,” says Doyle.

However, what is relatively new for the internet is the semantic web. “Wave could be a huge source of data for the semantic web. What we find with various social and collaborative platforms is people are voluntarily creating lots of useful related data about various objects (events, hobbies, organisations) and having a more real-time approach to creating content collaboratively will only make that source of data bigger and hopefully more interlinked,” says Breslin.

As far as being game changing, it has potential, he adds: “We’ve moved from frequently updated blogs to more frequently updated microblogs to being able to not just update in real-time, but go back and easily add to or update what’s been said any time in the past.”

By Marie Boran

Photo: Google Wave: a tsunami of collaboration for the modern workforce.