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Google Wave : Real-Time Communication Platform

Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Unless you've been under a rock, one with particularly poor Wi-Fi, you've probably heard at least something about Google's newest newfangled thingamabob, Wave.

I was lucky to be invited to WAVE recently. If you're lucky, you have a much-sought-after Wave account. The search engine giant recently opened a controlled beta version to 100,000 people, and desperate geeks are willing to pay real money for exclusive invites even if they're not entirely sure what it is they're willing to pay for.


Pull up Wave on your screen and it looks like someone junked together a wiki, e-mail, Google Docs, IM, some elements of social networking, Twitter, Google Maps, and a bunch of other crud. That embarrassment of riches, it turns out, comes with, well, embarrassment.

On the left, you have a navigation tool that frankly doesn't get used much. Below that is the list of your contacts. There aren't a ton of folks with Wave accounts right now, and that's a (temporary) problem.

In the middle you have a list of waves, controlled to some extent by that navigation tool on the left, but also by the search at the top. You can make some waves public, the implications of which have yet to be properly understood. In that sense, it can be kind of like a Wiki.

Finally, on the right hand side you have a wave. It starts off a lot like either an e-mail or a post to a forum. If someone else is looking at the same wave, they can see you writing and editing in real time. You can throw in a map or a widget or whatever.

  1. Real-time: In most instances, you can see what someone else is typing, character-by-character.
  2. Embeddability: Waves can be embedded on any blog or website.
  3. Applications and Extensions: Just like a Facebook (Facebook) application or an iGoogle gadget, developers can build their own apps within waves. They can be anything from bots to complex real-time games.
  4. Wiki functionality: Anything written within a Google Wave can be edited by anyone else, because all conversations within the platform are shared. Thus, you can correct information, append information, or add your own commentary within a developing conversation.
  5. Open source: The Google Wave code will be open source, to foster innovation and adoption amongst developers.
  6. Playback: You can playback any part of the wave to see what was said.
  7. Natural language: Google Wave can autocorrect your spelling, even going as far as knowing the difference between similar words, like “been” and “bean.” It can also auto-translate on-the-fly.
  8. Drag-and-drop file sharing: No attachments; just drag your file and drop it inside Google Wave and everyone will have access.

Google Wave actually has its own lingo – yes, you have to learn a few definitions if you’re going to really understand this new communication platform. Having knowledge of these terms will help you understand more about Google’s newest project.

Wave: A wave, specifically, refers to a specific threaded conversation. It can include just one person, or it can include a group of users or even robots (explained below). The best comparison I can make is that it’s like your entire instant messaging (IM) history with someone. Anything you’ve ever discussed in a single chat or conversation is a wave.

Wavelet: A wavelet is also a threaded conversation, but only a subset of a larger conversation (or a wave). It’s like a single IM conversation – a small part of a larger conversation and a larger history. Wavelets, though, can be created and managed separately from a wave.

Blip (BLIP): Even smaller than a Wavelet, a Blip is a single, individual message. It’s like a single line of an IM conversation. Blips can have other blips attached to them, called children. In addition, blips can either be published or unpublished (once again, it’s sort of like typing out an IM message but not yet sending it).

Document: A document actually refers to the content within a blip. This seems to refer to the actual characters, words, and files associated with a blip.

Extension: An extension is a mini-application that works within a wave. So these are the apps you can play with while using Wave. There are two main types of extenisons: Gadgets and Robots

Gadgets: A gadget is an application users can participate with, many of which are built on Google’s OpenSocial platform. A good comparison would be iGoogle gadgets or Facebook applications.

Robots: Robots are an automated participant within a wave. They can talk with users and interact with waves. They can provide information from outside sources (i.e. Twitter (Twitter)) or they can check content within a wave and perform actions based on them (i.e. provide you a stock quote if a stock name is mentioned).

Embeded Wave: An embeded wave is a way to take a Google Wave and the conversation within it and place it on your website. Users could use this as a chatroom, as a way to contact you, or for something more.

Wave Extensions: Gadgets and Robots

Wave is a completely extensible platform, like Firefox. Wave extensions come in two flavors: gadgets and robots.

A gadget is a piece of rich content that you can add to a wave. A few example gadgets are available in the Gadget gallery.

Still, it is rather disheartening to see no attention paid to accessibility. For example:
  • Alternative text is not provided for any images.
  • Background images are used to convey content.
  • Roles, states, and other accessibility properties are not defined.
  • There is no document or heading structure or semantics. None! Not even a list!
  • Form elements do not have labels or titles.
  • Keyboard focus indication is hidden, making keyboard navigation nearly impossible.
  • Most interactive elements are not in the tab order or do not respond to keyboard activation.
  • Keyboard focus is often trapped, requiring the page or browser to be closed to resume keyboard navigation.
  • The application becomes unusable and unreadable when text size is increased only slightly.
There’s a new protocol at work behind the scenes here, and Google is making it available under an open source license. Both the client and the server code will be released, so third-party apps can be built on the desktop or for the browser, and companies or groups can run their own private instances. However, because Wave is built using a federated protocol, different instances will be able to communicate with one another seamlessly across the single platform.

So when will we see a full launch of Wave? While the team declined to give a specific time-table, they did say that it will definitely be 2010, and alluded to the fact that it should be the first half of 2010. They also noted that one key next step will be to provide support for other languages. Right now, Wave is English-only, even though it has tools built in that translate its content to any other language.