Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Google Wave Might Change the World

I got my Google Wave account over the weekend and spent some quality time with the documentation and the software. At first, I had a similar feeling like when XML first came out: so what. Most of the features of Google Wave are familiar to anyone who has used email or any of the other Web 2.0 sites over the last year or so. You can leave messages to people and collaborate on documents and there is a rich multimedia component. Ho hum.

At its most basic, the Google Wave concept is that the message/document is the object. In a regular system each email or tweet or update is it's own object and it is up to the user to string them together. Here, the entire conversation is the object. There is also the cool notion of playback so that someone who is added to the Wave conversation later can go back and step through all of the iterations that the wave has undergone.

"So It's just a fancy wiki" said my tech savvy kids. It appears that way, but there can't be this much hype for that...

But, then I had the revelation about why this is oh so much more than a wiki/blog/teamsite/twitter client: federation. Google's vision is that the system is distributed, not centralized. Like every domain has an email server, Google envisions that every domain will have a wave server. This helps with survivability of information as no single server needs to have all of the information. We read about twitter and Facebook and even Gmail going down which is a reason businesses shy away. However, if those types of services are replicated across the servers of all participants then we are back to the type of survivability that the original email and Internet designs promised.

In the subsequent days, my team and I also began to look at Google's robot api. Basically, you add a robot to your recipient list of your wave and s/he monitors the wave for keywords and actions and then does something in response. Having a robot who maintains a web page in response to the content of a wave is one pretty interesting use.

Next post will be about why this will never catch on or scale. I think that Google is onto something revolutionary. I also think that there are lots of ways that we normal people can screw the whole thing up.

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