Just when you think you’ve seen all the Internet can offer, Google goes and turns your world upside down. From the same group that developed Google Earth comes Google Wave, a powerful new tool set launching later this year that combines e-mail, instant messaging, social media and much more.
To understand Google Wave, you first have to understand why it was created. E-mail is the most popular way people communicate online, yet it was invented 40 years ago — before IM, social media and even the Internet. So the developers of the new tool set asked the question, “What would my e-mail look like if invented today?” Google Wave is their answer.
Google Wave is an incredibly smart tool that can turn any Web browser (even a mobile one) into an über-communication hub, essentially rolling e-mail, IM, social media and document sharing into one easy-to-navigate platform, er “wave,” that can be shared among different users on a single hosted server.
In Google’s own words, a wave is equal parts conversation and document, where users can almost instantly communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps and more. Unlike e-mail, waves start out as a conversation with a set of users picked to participate in the dialogue. Instead of hitting “enter” every time they want to contribute, wave participants can see what everyone else is typing as they type it and can even make real-time edits anywhere in the history of the wave as another person is typing. For those new to the wave or who want to see the edits and changes made along the way, a playback feature that shows how the wave was started is available—think track changes played back as a video replay.
Other nifty features include a smarter spell checker and link checker; organization tools such as tags, folders, enhanced search functions and the ability to drag and drop files, videos, pictures and other wavelengths; and wave extensions (like a Twitter feed) that can be added to enhance the functionality of the wave. Google Wave will be left an open source project to encourage the development of improved extensions from third parties.
Waves can have many uses in a business setting. For one, they’re highly collaborative. Wave participants can share and edit documents at the same time and use waves to track and complete projects without ever having to set foot in the same office. And since waves are live transmissions, employees can have faster conversations than they can by waiting for e-mailed replies. Waves also make managing multiple media easier. Within a single wave you can manage your Twitter and Facebook accounts, e-mail alerts, and more. As long as a gadget is open source, it can sit within a wave. Waves even come with a handy robot called Rosy, which can translate your typing as you type it into 40 different languages, allowing you to communicate with customers in real time around the world.
Before your business catches the wave, there are some considerations to keep in mind. The first is to decide if you want to use Google Wave’s hosted server or run it on your own internal corporate network so your data is never shared with Google. Since it’s open source, any business can build a Wave server based on its own needs and specifications. Smaller businesses without a strong IT department will probably be better off using Google’s hosted server. Second, privacy issues immediately come to mind. How will you control which users can participate in or see a private wave? Google currently offers a private reply function that can be turned on any time you want to keep Google and wave participants from seeing certain information, but businesses should use waves for nonconfidential projects until more enhanced-security wave extensions become available.
As with any shiny new Google toy, there’s bound to be a few wrinkles when Google Wave first rolls out, but these will likely be quickly ironed out by Google and the proliferation of wave extensions built by third parties. From a business perspective, you should tread carefully when it comes to sharing sensitive information within a wave, but don’t be afraid to explore all the possibilities Wave has to offer. The future of online communication and collaboration is about to change forever, and you don’t want your business to be left behind treading water.