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Reinventing Email In Their Own Image

Reinventing Email In Their Own Image

E-mail is more than 40 years old, but what would it look like if were invented today? Google Wave answers that question with “a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web.” And frankly, it will change the way kids learn in school, families communicate and keep in touch, and encourage collaboration in a way that can fuel amazing innovation.

Google Reinvents E-mail in Their Own Image

Google Maps engineers (and brothers) Lars and Jens Rasmussen with project manager Stephanie Hannon showed “a very early version” of Google Wave at the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco last week. [Introduction video | Additional resources].

Like any innovation, it will be hard to describe what it can do without showing it to you, but I’ll give it a go.

E-mail was developed to be similar to the postal service. We knew what a letter was (or is), and that familiarity helped in the eventual mass acceptance of e-mail. Google Wave takes the social networking, documents, videos, photos, and instant messaging that digital natives are comfortable with and incorporates them in one place: the “wave.”

“A ‘wave’,” according to Google, “is equal parts conversation and document, where users can almost instantly communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.” And it is not only a collaborative platform where others can share their content and skills, but it all happens in near real-time.

Google decided to make a large part of this open source, effectively making the base code available for nearly anyone wishing to develop additional program extensions. Think of these extensions as the add-on programs you can use with the Firefox web browser. Google Vice President of Engineering Vic Gundotra said plainly, “We need developers to help us complete this product.” And when he says complete, he means creating anything and everything you can imagine to extend the abilities of Google Wave.

Contrast and Compare: E-mail to Google Wave

In this example, you just sent an e-mail to several family members to determine where the family vacation will be this year. Even if you’re lucky enough to have everyone you wanted copied on the e-mail in the first place, their responses will still scatter across your inbox spanning days or weeks making it difficult to quickly read.

Google Wave allows you to add those family members to the “wave” and ask the question. The wave keeps everything together, even as people add photos, links to reviews, maps, videos and almost any other data element to the wave. Just drag and drop them onto the wave. Each wave takes up the equivalent of one line in your inbox regardless of the number of responses.

When Aunt Sophie found out about the trip, she wanted to go as well. You reluctantly added her to the Wave. She can now see the Wave back to the first question, and step through it one reply at a time with the “playback” function. Think of it as rewind and fast forward on a video. And yes, you can hide responses to individuals in the wave.

Unlike e-mail, attachments are not being sent back and forth. This hosted solution means smaller data transfer with more types of data at a faster speed. It will transfer the larger content files if and as you need them. Google will make mobile devices a big part of the Google Wave solution. That means you will be able to share the sights and sounds of the vacation within the Wave.

Congratulations! You had a great trip! All the families can now use the same wave (or a new one) to simultaneously share their photos and caption each others’ photos in live time. You can all be simultaneously adding to the wave and populating the family blog if that is your choice. Choices are abundant and they are strangely intuitive.

Take the same abilities from the trip example, and apply them in writing a school report on a complex subject. Edits are marked so you can see who made them. Any instant messaging you would have done is part of the wave with the document, video, sound and images. The teacher, if part of the wave, can even check the progress of the report and offer a few comments or suggestions.

Since Google is an e-mail provider for many universities, this will almost ensure quick adoption among a large 18-23 year old group that values productivity (a.k.a. personal time) and is comfortable in a social media space.

To be clear, I do not know if this will be part of the educational or business e-mail solutions, but this is too good not to use.

Bottom line: This is going to become super popular very quickly. Remember those people in the 1980’s who didn’t want to use computers? Don’t be one of THOSE people now – you will be plowed under quickly. Learn the benefits of social media and get comfortable with procedures and practices.

The ability to innovate at an unbelievable speed, make errors and learn from them a faster pace is what could make this a killer application. (Please note: this is the first time I’ve ever used that phrase in my writing).

Now add in the tens of thousands (or more) developers who can integrate gaming, business-specific applications and almost anything and everything else within this platform, and you can’t help but have a winner.

Now let me put on my darker hat: Google is a master at connecting buyers and sellers through gaining as much data from you as possible. They try to keep those connections as relevant as possible for you. It is unclear how this will be leveraged within Google Wave. The amount of content that will be shared by individuals will be tremendous, but in some ways, so will be the benefits to the user.

Google should take the lead of the open source community with regard to content ownership – it belongs to those who developed it. Google Wave’s ability to document the evolution of an idea will clearly show the content that led to innovation and should ultimately help determine who should own the patents and copyrights.

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