September 30, 2009

Google Kicks Off Wave Trial

The new Google Wave tool, which merges e-mail, instant messaging and wiki-style editing, was made available to the publicly today.

Describing it as "how e-mail would look if it were invented today", Google said the service will transform the way people communicate online.

The trial will be open to 100,000 invitees, each of whom can nominate an additional five people to "join the Wave."

A full consumer launch is expected early next year.

The open source tool will allow third party developers to build new applications.  Lars Rasmussen, who developed Wave, referred to it as a "communication and collaboration tool".

"It struck us that e-mail is still the main communication tool on the web, which seemed remarkable given that it is 20-year-old technology," said Rasmussen, who along with his brother Jens was the driving force behind Google Maps.

In designing Wave, the Rasmussen brothers began with the concept of a "conversation sitting in a cloud".

"We found we could build a flexible tool with a surprising amount of functionality," said Mr. Rasmussen in an interview with BBC News.

Such functions include "real-time typing", meaning users can see a comment being written character by character and can devise their response before another user has even finished writing their remarks.

While admitting such a feature might be annoying for some, Mr. Rasmussen believes it is also a great time-saver.  For those who may wish to disable such functionality, developers are working on a draft mode that would allow it to be switched off.

Unlike conventional instant messenger (IM) conversations, Wave discussions continue even after everyone has logged out. This allows users who were invited to a Wave conversation, but not currently online, to read the entire message strand at a later date.

Wave also includes wiki-style editing tools, allowing members of a conversation to edit messages at any point.   A "playback" function allows everyone to view precisely what was edited, when it was edited and by whom.

Google now writes all its design documents in Wave.

Wave also simplifies the sharing of photos, allowing users to simply drag them from the desktop onto the Wave platform.

"If you are planning a trip, you can talk about it and plan it in Wave and then share all the photos at the end," product manager Stephanie Hannon told BBC News.

While Google Wave runs in most browsers, it will not run in Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE).   However, IE users can download a plug-in called Chrome Frame to use the application "“ something Microsoft advises against, claiming it compromises security.

Considering IE is still the leading browser, its incompatibility with Wave could affect widespread adoption of the platform.

Google says the incompatibility of Wave in IE is not a pretense to promote its own browser, Chrome.  The notoriously collaborative company said the developers worked "very hard" at trying to make it work in IE.

The majority of Google's code for Wave is written in HTML 5, the next-generation of web language.

In an acknowledgement of social-networking site Facebook, there are already a number of applications for Wave, including Sudoku and Chess.

"We are now trying to persuade someone to build a crossword puzzle," Mr. Rasmussen said, acknowledging that the platform's success will rely upon the number of people willing to sign up.

"Without other people adopting Wave it will never take off," he said.

"I have been accused of being pathologically optimistic about it but I can't see why people wouldn't want it."

Mr. Rasmussen's enthusiasm seems to have proven correct to an extent, with some one million people having registered for the tool since it was announced at a Google developers' conference in May.


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