Both e-mail and instant messaging are pretty basic ideas. Originally designed back in the ‘60s, the two electronic earth-shakers were made to replace what we had back then: the telephone and snail mail.

Consider what we have now: blogs, wikis, collaborative documents, etc. Is it possible our faithful forms of communication are outdated? Google (news, site) thinks so. In an attempt to infuse old ideas with new technology once again, Google Wave is born. The communication service is a sort of e-mail, collaboration, instant messaging, networking mashup, and Google’s idea of what e-mail would look like if it were designed today.

As per usual for Big G, the tool is already making waves.

What is it?

Essentially, Google Wave is a real time communication product, platform and protocol. Confused? Well it is Google after all.

The brainchild of three Google-ites, brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen of the technical staff and Stephanie Hannon of the Google Maps team, Google Wave aims to revolutionize how we use e-mail, docs, chat, etc. by throwing them into one big melting pot.

First, a visual:

google_wave_snapshots_inbox.jpg  Google Wave Inbox Snapshot

Second, a definition: A single wave is a specific, threaded conversation. It can include either one person or multiple people, and it weaves together instant message and e-mail replies. Basically, it's like a record of everything you've ever said in one particular conversation, no matter which method you chose to communicate it in.

According to Google (and we quote):

  • "A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps and more.
  • A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
  • A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time."

The column to the far right in the snapshot above is the actual wave, where you should be able to make out some thumbnails (because photos can be dragged and dropped directly in) and live chat/e-mail replies between members of the particular conversation, whose user photos are displayed at the top. The large middle column is the inbox where all of the waves live, and the left column is Navigation and Contacts.

Waves of Features

This tool is bursting at the seams with innovative features. In fact, the platform does so much that the Web Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009 took a whopping hour and a half to get through. Needless to say, we can't cover absolutely everything here, but here are some key points: