Monday, August 24, 2009

Understanding Google Wave

In late May of this year, Google announced a new technology initiative of theirs called Google Wave. What is this technology about and why should anyone care?

Early reports painted the picture of Google Wave being a hybrid between instant messaging and email with an emphasis on conversant collaboration. Because of that observation, people just thought it was an email killer and Internet attention went elsewhere. After all, who is dissatisfied with email?

Since then, many Internet pundits have weighed in on the subject. Some claim that it is too complicated for rapid adoption. Others see it more as a platform for enterprise collaboration than as an email killer.

Google Wave is scheduled to expand its beta audience in about a month from now. Many sources are now skeptical about whether or not the technology is stable enough to take that step.

So, why should you care? Whether or not Google can make its commitment by the end of the week is immaterial to me. What is important is that if they can carry this off and deliver on the promise of Google Wave, then I believe Google Wave can be a dramatic game changing innovation to those web properties that thrive on user generated content.

But innovation is not always well received nor easy to accept. I will go into more details about this in a future post but what Google Wave empowers is real-time conversations across multiple web properties. Imagine a world where discussion threads are transformed into persistent chat rooms that cluster around a particular topic instead of belonging to a particular article or blog entry. Each web page devoted to that topic could share in the discussion yet the participants could also track the complete conversation in a web GUI that does look like email on steroids.

So, what's the problem? What's the big deal? This means that web properties are going to have to be ready to let go of some traffic away from their site in order to open their site up to more traffic from other sites. This philosophy runs counter to the current practice of stickiness where web sites do anything to capture and retain visitors to their site.

I'm a big advocate of sharing information online as a necessary step to fostering healthy and prosperous communities of practice so here's hoping that this wave is one that catches on. Stay tuned for more developments in September.

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