Google Puts Wind Behind Wave

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Created by the team that brought Google Maps to the world, the search engine giant hopes Wave will cause more than a few ripples on the Internet

Google has demonstrated Google Wave, a new mode of communication from the team that brought Google Maps to the world. Google Wave is a combination of e-mail, instant messaging, photo sharing and a lot more.

Google officials demonstrated the upcoming Google Wave technology at the Google I/O developer conference on 28 May. In a blog post, Lars Rasmussen, a software engineering manager at Google and half of the core team whose original ideas led to both Google Maps and the new Wave technology, said his brother Jens convinced him that the future of communication should be the next concept for the team to conquer after maps.

Google acquired the company Lars and Jens co-founded, Where 2 Tech, back in 2004. And after launching and watching the success of Google Maps, the team, which Lars referred to as a “five-person ‘startup,'” began work on Jens’ idea in a project they codenamed “Walkabout.”

Walkabout led to Google Wave, which the company demonstrated in a preview version for developers at Google I/O. In Lars’ words, “A ‘wave’ is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.”

In addition, according to Rasmussen’s blog:

“Here’s how it works: 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 and see how it evolved.”

Moreover, Google Wave has three layers: the product, the platform and the protocol, Rasmussen said. These are:

The Google Wave product (available as a developer preview) is the Web application people will use to access and edit waves. It’s an HTML 5 app, built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions such as desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).

Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other Web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.

The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the “live” concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone’s Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave.

Meanwhile, when asked in a Google-sponsored interview running on the Google Wave site what he thought the developers will be most excited by, Adam Schuck, an engineer on the Wave team, said:

“Developers are going to see the potential of Google Wave as a platform – we hope they’ll leap on it. It’s a very versatile platform, and in building it, we’ve tried to solve a lot of problems that developers have had historically … we store their data, we resolve their conflicts. They’ll be able to integrate it with existing systems they use today, or produce new tools that allow people to improve and manage their communications – which is, after all, one of the most important things to people nowadays.”

To that, Casey Whitelaw, another Wave engineer added: “I agree, Google Wave has solved a bunch of the stuff that has traditionally been really hard … real time collaboration, hosted data, structured data … developers won’t have to think about all of that, they’ll be able to just build their app and go.”

Another point of interest regarding Google Wave is what excites its own creators. Asked what most excited him about Google Wave, Rob Schonberger, a third member of the Wave engineering team, said:

“For me, it’s the fact that with Google Wave, you get to make documents truly extensible. Just the other day we wrote some code so that when you type TM it turns into the trademark sign, for example. All these little features remind me of the change that took place with mobile phones … it used to be that new phones launched and the manufacturers told you what features they had, but today with the Apple iPhone and the G1, they say ‘we don’t know how you’re going to use this, but let’s give you the platform so you can figure it out for yourself.

“The automated translation feature that we demonstrated at Google I/O also blows my mind, because it’s potentially giving people with no common language the ability to communicate and collaborate in real time. And best of all for developers, the translation feature took hardly any time at all to implement once the platform was in place.”

Additionally, in his blog, Lars Rasmussen said although the team was opening a developer preview for the Wave technology, they have set no specific timeframe for a public release of the technology.

Rasmussen said, “…we’re planning to continue working on Google Wave for a number of months more as a developer preview. We’re excited to see what feedback we get from our early tinkerers, and we’ll undoubtedly make lots of changes to the Google Wave product, platform, and protocol as we go.”

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