Saturday, November 7

Google Wave.

Take emailing, instant messaging, file sharing, collaborating, tweeting, social networking, mobile living, online docs, open standards, extensions, widgets, scripting, blogging, presentation with multimedia, scheduling, and just about every other service you can think of that today's Internet currently provides (though far from seamlessly), combine them all in a blender, run them on an HTML 5 compliant browser (such as Google's Chrome, conveniently), and you have Google Wave - or rather, what it aspires to become.

It appears Google is trying to take over the entire world. Unlike Microsoft, who has always been hampered by a severe lack of vision, or Apple, who is content to make very useful, beautiful things but keep them insanely proprietary, Google might actually succeed. It's kind of the way Wikipedia succeeded, by letting its users determine the way it develops, not forcing technologies on them and telling them why they're necessary.

It's pretty cool and at the same time pretty scary. As long as Google remains people-friendly, standards-compliant, and transparent (mostly) about its motives, and goes with the flow of what society actually wants and simply provides some really smart ways of doing such things, it will forever be seen in a friendly light. The moment it begins to abuse its power and grab for money or intellectual property rights or anything else not so public-friendly, it will be seen as a monolithic Big Brother and monopoly threat. Is this the way dystopic futures like The Matrix start out?

Although I don't like the idea of single companies (or entities of any type) having inordinate power, Google so far has proved honest and open, trying to "better" the web of course for its own shareholders' sake but also seemingly just for the sake of doing it. For creative individuals to pour their energy into projects which not only give them their 15 minutes of fame and stroke their ego (and make them rich), but also benefit the online public. All in all, it has acted very un-Microsoftlike, which is all good news in my book. Microsoft has long tried to graft together everything on the desktop and in "the cloud" into one big...something...but that something has been ugly, unwieldy, and decidedly NOT what the public has wanted. In fact, the company seems downright hostile to its own user base most of the time.

Personally I'd rather the future remained a big sprawling mess of healthy competition, but if one company has to step forward and lead the development of technologies (standards development should be kept separate, though - this is very important and probably the #1 reason Microsoft has failed), I'd sure as hell rather it be Google than Redmond, Washington. Apple for its part doesn't even want to seem to play the game, and never has. They're content with having a "niche of excellence" in which they control absolutely everything, and leaving the dregs (everyone who isn't an Apple person) to do what they will. This ivory-tower worldview is quite unlike what you'd expect given Steve Jobs' hippie upbringing, but actually it's perfectly fine, as long as it's not the only game in town. Just like it's fine that there are Ferraris or Guinness beer in the world. After all, no one is forcing you to buy into the complete Apple brand. If you do, it's because it's got value for you and it's in line with your own aesthetic. I happen to love it, but I've been accused of being elitist too, and maybe I am in my own way. I just know what I like; what's right for me.

But as for the online world as a whole, which unlike that "resort club" atmosphere of the Apple World is a frothing sea of competing standards, technologies, and shady people trying to steal your wallet or your identity, people have to choose who to trust. And I'll say again, given the choice of the two, I'd choose Google over Microsoft eight days a week. It remains to be seen whether that trust is appropriate or misplaced. Power nearly always leads to corruption, and Google is going to have to severely buck that trend if it wants to continue to grow into every aspect of online life (which is increasingly becoming just "life") and continue to be seen as a Good Guy. I hope they do. They're much more exciting a company than that other one which has been attempting this feat for going on 30 years now, and has continually just pissed people off at every step (I think you know who I'm talking about).

Anyway, check out a couple of videos of Google Wave. The first is edited down to 10 minutes from an 80-minute presentation, so it's a little disorienting, but you get a sense of the real power of the integrative online experience Google is trying to pull off. The second is more basic but also less frenetic.

To watch the entire 80 minute presentation, or just to learn more about the product, go here:

YouTube, naturally, has a lot of short video clips on how to use it, what it all means, and so on. Just search on "Google Wave" from within 'Tube and you'll see what I mean.

Bonus video...

As always, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this product/technology, or the subject of digital convergence, future lifestyles (good or bad), or anything else for that matter! Sound off in the comments section if you have an opinion.


Hans said...

It's about time for this - I've always been frustrated by email formats. Yay for the Wave!

Metamatician said...

Wow, a comment! Thanks :)

billybytedoc said...

Re: Microstuft, you forgot unreliable. Google stuff works although they have had a few problems.

Hippies (Jobs) do repent!

Googles growth is a little scary, but Google vs Microstuft -- Google any day!

Wave - maybe. I worry about programs that attempt to do everything.

Metamatician said...

Yeah, it's never really worked before. People seem to want their apps nice and granular. But I don't know that the past is a good guide for the future in the computer industry when so many variables have changed - people online on their phones, people with a zillion contacts, people who multitask all day long. Maybe a new paradigm is needed. Like the guy in the bottom-most video says, if it was just a program, it would be cool but not a huge deal. But it seems to be a new protocol (open source, even) they're attempting to create, like pop/imap for email, ftp or bit torrent for moving files, or dns on tcp/ip for surfing by simple names. If they leave it completely open the way Firefox is, and others can extend the protocol in any way they want, it doesn't have to necessarily always be a single app called Wave - you'd talk about these multimedia-rich conversations which you can play backwards or forwards in time, contribute to, and embed objects in an environment like a blog, but "live." Google would be making the first app, then, but others could run with the technology and make as simple or complex use of it in their own apps as they want; the important thing is the "filetype" will be the same and readable across platforms and apps that support it.

Think of a Flash module, which can be a game, a youtube video, a movie website with dynamic elements, and so on. Most people don't realize that even though all those things seem pretty different, they're all built with Flash. Or the way there are a ton of message boards or feedback areas on news sites, technical sites, and just about everywhere, and most of them run on just a few similar platforms - Invision, phpBB, vBulletin, Simple Machines - and further, those are all written in PHP and most are free for use, which is why there is some continuity out there amongst message boards. Most require you to have an account which may or may not have an avatar, you can post using BBCode or sometimes full HTML, you can have a signature on all your posts, your total post count may be shown, there may be private messaging, multiple "rooms" each with numerous "threads"'s not proprietary to anyone but it's become a format with rules of use that generally everyone understands. Even Media Wiki is a free download, also written in PHP, with its own characteristic look and concepts, for those who want to create an online site full of information about a subject - like the Star Wars universe, or dog breeds, or whatever. (cont'd)

Metamatician said...

Anyways, that's just my longwinded way of saying that if they DON'T try to push it as just a Google App, but establish standard functionality that people will expect from anyone creating or participating in a "wave," it may be seized on by many developers and become another standardized way of communicating that's more realtime than email, but more rich than simple IM. If they don't get greedy (Microsoft would lock the code down so tight you'd need a .NET account and developers would need to learn a proprietary language and pay to license it, all of which would kill it dead before it got out the door), then it may just catch on. We'll see. There's always a lot of hype for the Next Big Thing, but I wouldn't bet against Sergey Brin and Larry Page given their track record so far.

I'm pretty neutral about the concept - I don't like power in too few hands, but at the same time it IS frustrating having SO many different devices and ways to communicate with them - email, IM, texting from phone, voice over IP, webcams, static message boards, twitter accounts, RSS/Atom feeds, Digg, Facebook - it's like every device promises convenience and simplicity, yet each has a whole new app and basic protocol you have to learn, and they don't talk to one another. It would be nice to see crosstalk between all these - simplify the GUI and let it just show when people come into the wave, no matter whether it's on a phone or PC or PDA (I.E., abstract the hardware from the wave), and it looks and acts the same for everyone; everyone can drag and drop binary objects like pictures, music, and video into the window, annotate the wave, search, tag concepts for later (or instant) lookup, have automatic live translation between languages, rewind it to see how it flowed before you got there, automatically share and update contact information, sync appointments (all with user-controlled privacy settings), and a million other things. It's not that any of these things are new, it's just that no one's really tried to combine it all in such an interactive way before. As long as Google does it for the right reasons, I think a lot of people could benefit (let's face it, sending links and pictures in email is kludgy, not to mention audio and video - email wasn't initially built for all that). If Google tries to keep undue ownership of it and profit from it in a significant way, then people will ignore it and gravitate to other means of communicating rich content (for free). Even Adobe, another very closed company, has gotten PDFs to be widely used across the web; in fact Adobe could have done something like Wave years ago, but their closed culture prevented it. I think it HAS to be Google at this point, they've got people's trust, a ton of industry clout, and a history of building free things that (usually) work well and which are extensible by the community without royalties.

Archived Posts

Search The Meta-Plane