A lot of ink has recently been dedicated to Google Wave (wave.google.com), a real-time chat, social networking and document-editing platform that went into limited beta this week. If you're not one of the 100,000 people to get an invite by Google this round then here's why it's such a big deal that papers like the New York Times and Forbes devoted space to it:
First off, it's been called everything from a "collaboration engine" to a "real-time communication platform." In that sense it defies description and could actually represent a whole new category of technology. Google's own video tutorial on using Wave clocks in at an hour and a half, although it could have been cut down if they didn't present it before a live audience that kept interrupting with cheers and rounds of applause. You can find it on YouTube (also owned by Google).
Basically, Google Wave combines your e-mail inbox with your contact list, Google Chat, Google Documents, Google Calendar, Blogspot, and pretty much any media you might want to share or collaborate on, from maps, videos and photographs to word documents and spreadsheets (usually using Google's suite of online software but you can also upload most things from your desktop).
What happens is that somebody starts a wave and invites others (or anybody) to join in. Every step from then on is recorded and backed up so you can play the entire wave back at any time, while any files you introduce into a wave are collected in a logical way so people jumping in can get up to speed quickly.
You can watch others typing letter by letter or jump backwards at any time to make notes or to get the wave back on track. At the end of the day you'll know what everyone contributed to the conversation.
Google Wave can be embedded in webpages, so you can run a wave off your homepage or blog. You can also link to a wave from anywhere on the web.
That's about as basic as I can make it - I think it's one of those things you have to see or use to fully comprehend.
Besides, how it works is less important than how it will be used.
For example, an office or a group of entrepreneurs can use Google Wave to host a meeting, sharing thoughts and all materials relevant to the topic of that meeting. An ad agency executive could form a group that shows up in the left-hand window, use the right-hand window to compare concepts for print ads or commercials, and use the middle window to discuss the pros and cons of each concept and reach a decision.
People who collaborate on things like software or movie scripts or documents can start a wave where the participants are in the left-hand window and the document/program file appears in the right. The middle "chat" window can be used to discuss ideas before adding them to the active file on the right.
A university professor could start a wave on any topic, with students signing in to participate in a discussion on almost any topic. The right-hand window could be use to show everything from pages of textbooks to equations.
A group of enthusiasts could watch an episode of Star Trek in the right window and discuss the finer points of Captain Kirk's latest monologue in the middle window. Or sports fans could watch a live event on the right and make their own comments as the game unfolds.
As a platform, Google Wave appears to be a starting point for a very promising new technology. For example, with Google Voice the company has shown it can convert voice to text rather easily so one day a wave could comprise of a conference call instead of an online chat. The right-hand window could include things like video games, scripting tools, web pages, graphics software, video editing tools and interactive presentations.
Right now you can start a wave ad-hoc or by using an e-mail as your starting point. You can schedule waves on Google Calendar, sending invites and reminders to participants. You can make a wave public or keep it private.
Google offers so many different services these days that generally already work well with each other, but Google Wave is the first attempt to bring them all together on a single platform to create something that's greater than its individual parts.
Or so I assume. I'm still waiting for my invite...
Twitter to get a little more useful
Twitter announced this week that they will be giving subscribers the ability to generate lists, improving the way people organize their accounts and the Tweets they subscribe to. (Or is it "to which they subscribe?" Does grammar even matter in the Twitter era?) You can have one folder for Humour, another for Politics, another for Sports, another for Friends, another for Clubs, another for Work, another for Hobbies, and yadda, yadda. There's no release date yet but a Tweet at Twitter.com suggested the feature was currently being tested and could roll out soon.