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Could Google Wave Lead Unified Communications?

With the right technology improvements and some vision, Google Wave could become ground zero for UC interoperability, says Andrew Garcia

After spending a couple of hours with Google Wave, I have to say that the application looks to have a lot of utility for eWEEK. I think it would be a good way for us to better collaborate between our analysts and our freelancers, to help plan and fine tune all our reviews and analysis pieces. And I think there is great potential to leverage Google Wave to enable better audience participation and real time analysis of live events.

Unfortunately, at this time, the drawbacks for Google Wave remain the same as with so many of the search giant’s recent communications endeavors. The features just aren’t fully baked, largely because Google Wave isn’t integrated in any sensible way with any of Google’s other applications.

Beginning with a blank slate

A post about the Google Wave unveiling on the Official Google Enterprise Blog makes it sound like this was an intentional move, as “Google is making familiar tools like email and office applications much more collaborative, but with Google Wave, we started with a blank slate to try new approaches to teamwork without the constraints of existing applications.”

And with that blank slate, Google Wave lacks so many elements that would make the collaborative experience so much richer. As a user, I immediately noticed the lack of built-in video conferencing, desktop sharing and telephony bridging, for instance. While some of those capabilities can be added to Google Wave through extensions such as TimeBridge Conferencing or Video Chat Experience, an afternoon of playing with those plug-ins left me less than impressed, as the features never worked for me or were limited in their usefulness during my tests.

With Google Voice, Google Chat and Gizmo5 already separately siloed amongst the search giant’s array of communications apps and services, Google has so many pieces at its disposal that could enhance Google Wave’s collaborative experience, if only they were baked together, preferably in a standards-compliant way with an eye toward third-party interoperability.

Beyond VoIP

When Google announced its intention to buy Global IP Solutions (GIPS) in order to acquire its well-regarded portfolio of audio and video codecs and media processing technologies, many analysts speculated that the move may allow Google to leverage GIPS technology, along with Google Voice and Gizmo5, to effectively compete with Skype for Internet-based voice and video calling.

I say that goal is shortsighted. Consumer-grade VoIP (Voice over IP) is already being done well and done affordably. Google should aim higher than simply playing me-too with Internet voice or video calling, to instead deliver next-generation communications and collaborative experiences that most people don’t have access to at a low price point. I think Google Wave, with the right technology enhancements, could be ground zero for just such an initiative.

The GIPS acquisition also has me wondering whether Google could leverage GIPS’ vast array of licensees–companies such as Cisco WebEx, IBM Sametime and Yahoo–to become an unofficial, de facto arbiter of collaborative and video conferencing. What if Google were to offer those licensees a break on pricing down the road, provided that the technology was built for interoperability (or at least Google-operability)?

From one perspective, Google could perhaps let Gmail and Google Wave users (or perhaps Google Apps Premier users) connect to a session as a viewer, rather than a full participant, without needing third-party software or licenses.

But thinking bigger, Google could then possibly utilise its vast network and processing resources to effectively become a cloud-based MCU (Multi-Point Control Unit). It could tell ISVs to forget for the immediate future about the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum and its machinations, to just make sure its video or collaboration programme interoperates with Google, and multivendor interoperability will just work itself out. Thanks to Google.

If Google can find a way to wrap some ads around such a service and make a buck of it, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this were to come to pass.