Google is unleashing a new class of instant messaging and email, and it’s calling on independent computer programmers to help evolve this hybrid offering.
Google Wave is a free tool service, which was first modelled openly yesterday during the GoogleI/O developer conference in San Fransisco.
But, for the rest of us mere mortals, Google Wave won’t be available for surfing until later this year. A preview is, however, available on wave.google.com.
Combining elements of email, instant messaging, wikis and photo-sharing, Google Wave runs in a web browser. For Google, this is an attempt to make online communication more dynamic, simplifying the way people engage on specific projects and in exchanges on topics.
And by the time Wave is rolled out for the web-using populace, Google hopes independent programmers will have dreamt up with new ways of using the service.
Google also hopes programmers will be able to decipher how to weave Wave into prominent social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
That’s according to Lars Rasmussen, a Google engineering manager. Along with his brother Jens, Rasmussen helped build Google Maps, which made its online debut in 2005.
In early 2003, the brothers co-founded a mapping start-up, Where 2 Technologies, which was acquired by Google in 2004. The Rasmussens then joined Google, where they worked as two of the lead engineers in the team that turned this acquisition into Google Maps.
The idea for Wave was apparently spawned by Jens in 2004, but it was put on hold until Google Maps was built.
Having worked on Wave from Google’s Sydney operation – with his brother and other Google employees – to build a new service that would tie in with the internet’s increasingly social nature, Lars Rasmussen said: “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today.”
Wave has been formulated to make it easier for users to converse via email. For example, tools will be provided to highlight sections of a written conversation.
Explained Rasmussen: “In Google Wave you create a wave and add people to it. Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web. They can insert a reply or edit the wave directly. It’s concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave.
“That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content – it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use ‘playback’ to rewind the wave to see how it evolved."
Google was keen to point out yesterday that Google Wave is still in its infancy, but based on yesterday’s demonstration, Wave features a left-hand sidebar ‘Navigation’ and a list of your contacts, from Google Contacts, below that. The main part of the screen incorporates the user’s Wave inbox.
While similar in appearance to your Gmail inbox, the Wave interface differs in that it features the faces of your friends who are involved in each thread. Because there can be any kind of new content in these waves, this will be the differentiator between Google Wave and Gmail.
Photos and widgets also can be incorporated into the service, signalling how interactive and social Google Wave promises to be. There will also be the potential to share Google Maps, games, event invitations, etc. And if the software developers have anything to do with it, Google Wave will become even more of an open platform, offering a plethora of new services.
So, check out the preview for yourself at wave.google.com.
By Carmel Doyle
Pictured: Google Wave as it appeared at the Google I/O developer conference in San Fransisco yesterday