Google Wave: the Early Days

After the press conference following this morning’s keynotes, I was part of a small group conversation with Lars Rasmussen, head of the Google Wave team. He told the story of how they pitched Sergey Brin on the Wave project. “We’d worked on our message,” he said, “and we boiled it down to this: ‘We think we have an idea that will have a bigger impact on email than Google Maps had on maps.'” Sergey bought off on the idea. ‘Nuff said.

Lars pointed out that he and Jens actually had enough “accrued” 20% time that they could arguably have done the project anyway. “We hadn’t taken any 20% time since we started. So we had about eight months each saved up. You aren’t really able to save up that much of it though, but we were prepared to make that argument if we needed to.”

Lars had already moved to Sydney, and made the case that Wave could best be created there, where the team could operate as a kind of independent startup. Jens moved over, and they built the first prototype over nine months with a team of five, during 2007. Since then, the team has grown to about 100.

Judging from the number of people in the technical sessions on Wave at Google I/O, that development team just got a lot larger!

Lars also mentioned an interesting point about how developers can get their work noticed in Wave: you share extensions simply by using them in a wave. They can simply be installed from there. This will provide a viral vector for adoption of new extensions.

Lars pointed out that there is one way that Google’s internally-developed extensions have “more power” than external extensions: some of them come pre-installed for all waves. They haven’t figured out yet the right way to give that kind of access to third parties. But they are definitely thinking about it – and how automated trust metrics (e.g. how many people are using an extension) might be used to promote the work of external developers.

  • Thanks for sharing these bits, Tim. I wasn’t aware that developers could self-publish extensions via a wave. Pretty different model from the iTunes App Store, eh? :)

  • Thanks for sharing these bits, Tim. I wasn’t aware that developers could self-publish extensions via a wave. Pretty different model from the iTunes App Store, eh? :)

  • The response to Wave was unreal, the sessions were standing room only… also the HTML5 and browser centric future Google (and I, not that it matters) puts forward for the future are very evident in Wave… also it was clear Lars learned he power of the development community with the Maps experience.

    Such a great two days at Google IO, energized.
    -Ben Hedrington @benhedrington

  • How ironic that e-mail and messaging, the perennial “killer apps” of the popular internet were originally afterthoughts; little more than functional kludges appended to the original ARPANET. Yet, decades later, they’re still the source of the next (small “w”) wave of innovation in the architecture of participation.

    Surprising? Not when you recall Clay Shirky’s shrewd observation that the first social software tool was the “Reply to All” button.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like us, in other words.

  • Thanks Tim for sharing your insights and reproducing some of the atmosphere you experienced. It must have been a spine tingling, mind blowing good time all day and each day you were there, hrm?

    I truly hope we see not only more IO, but more IO-like events like this, it would give Apple a run for their money in terms of presenting ideas to the world, to be sure.

  • the link is dead

  • Don’t believe this will beat Apple.
    But we will see.

  • Hi Tim,

    Just in regards to your last comment there. I think it could make sense to have something akin to an Apple app-store arena where independent developers as well as Google could sell or give away gadgets, robots and embedded applications.

    This could foster a big new revenue stream for not only Google but other startups looking to break into and be a part of a big application like this.

    It’s done wonders for Apple. Google might like to channel this as well..


  • Thinking of Wave in terms of “replacing” such as GMAIL (or even email, itself) is just silly. Not every Internet communication needs to be (or even should be) as would be in Wave. Traditional email, at the very least, should (and likely will) never go away. Of this, I think there should be little fear or doubt.

    Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a place — and a potent one, indeed — in our lives for such as Wave and its ineluctable variants. It, too, will be useful, under the right circumstances. In fact, from my admittedly only-cursory analysis of it to date, I’m thinking that what actually MAY be “replaced” by Wave, as a practical matter, is traditional “chat,” as we now know it (though traditional chat, mark my words, will continue to be around for years and years, too, no matter how good Wave ultimately gets).

    Regardless, one thing about which we should all be clear in our minds is that we’re not talking about the mere replacing of anything, here. Wave, for better or worse, seems very nearly of the nature of paradigm shift… and far be it from me to suggest that that’s, necessarily, a bad thing, here.

    It does, however, come with pitfalls about which we should all be watchful, if not actually downright concerned. For example, though it’s now coming out in articles (and/or rebuttals to such as I am posting here) that it’s likely to be user-configurable, initial writings about Wave touted the ability (and represented it as essential to Wave’s very way of operating) of all persons in a “wave” (or a thread) to be able to see, in real time, all others’ keystrokes, as they type.

    Let me repeat the salient words of that, here: AS. THEY. TYPE.

    Think about that, please, for just a moment. It’s a far larger problem than, perhaps, it initially seems. Like how sausage is made (or, as some joke, like how laws are passed), some things in life may better be left something of a mystery to those who ultimately consume (or are regulated by) them; and, most importantly, solely at the creator’s option.

    The ultimate impact and meaning to the reader of anything written would be inordinately influenced by said reader’s having been a witness to its creation. If one is a thoughtful writer who doesn’t just blurt out every wayward thing which flits through one’s brain, then one is going to pause to think while one types, and back-up and delete and re-type, and whatever else behind-the-scenes activity goes into what ends-up being the finished written product. If the reader were able to witness what the writer merely paused before writing; or actually did write, but then thought better of and either removed or changed to something else, then the bell of what the reader saw along the way cannot be un-rung; and the reader’s ultimate interpretation and understanding of the final written result will be indelibly affected in ways (even if not immediately obvious) more likely than not to be inherently bad for all concerned.

    Now, if it’s true, as some who challenge such as my assertions, here, are now saying, that the ability of others to view one’s keystrokes as one makes them is (or at least will be) user-configurable in the version of Wave which is finally released to the end-user wild, then my concern, at least on this particular privacy-related point, is happily ameliorated.

    However, of larger philosophical concern to me is that the creators of Wave apparently believed, even if only briefly, that something as basic as this issue would not be important. What, then (if anything), does that mean we should also be wary of in the realm of personal privacy protections, just generally, for users of this new and groundbreaking product? For what else should we be watching which may, ultimately, negatively impact us because of fundamental, and at least initially seemingly harmless, privacy encroachments…

    …encroachments which may not even be recognizable as encroachments to Wave’s creators because, perhaps, of their nationality and upbringing (nothing negative, mind you, intended by that wording, I assure).

    One potentially troubling impact (at least from the standpoint of Americans, in my opinion) of globalization (which, incidentaly, I’m not fundamentally against, despite how what I’m about to write may make it seem) is how the sensibilities of those non-Americans who create things which all others on the planet end-up using can unintentionally contravene that which Americans hold perhaps nearer and dearer to their hearts than do non-American others. Those who grew up and still live in countries where such things as privacy and freedom of speech are not as absolute and paramount as in the US may or may not necessarily value such rights to the same degree as do Americans; and it sometimes shows in their work.

    It has not escaped my notice that the two brothers — brilliant though they are — who created and continue to develop Wave were neither born and raised in, nor now live in, the US… and so I fear (and I may be completely wrong about this, I realize… but absent, at this point, any reason not to, I am nevertheless fearing that they) may not place as much of a premium on the notion of absolute privacy (if desired by the end-user of Wave) as do Americans.

    Or, who knows, maybe they do. I don’t know them, and it’s unfair of me to presume, I suppose (or even to suppose, I presume). One way or the other, though, it should be at least a concern to all that the default behavior of Wave seems so inherently and joltingly privacy-denuding.

    So, then, again, begged is the question: Of what else (if anything), in Wave, should we who hold inviolate our privacy be wary?

    To appeal to (at least thinking) Americans, the makers of Wave need to take steps to ensure that if the end-user wants to protect his/her absolute privacy while using this admittedly exciting and paradigm-shifting new product, it can, via easy configuration settings, be satisfactorily and incontrovertibly achieved at all possible levels, and in all possible ways. Moreover, as it is developed, the makers of Wave might need to realize that they may, because of their nationality and upbringing, not necessarily even recognize what all of those levels and ways might be; and the Americans (or even the non-Americans who at least fully grasp the American viewpoint regarding all this) who work on the development of Wave should ensure that no privacy holes such as I’m discussing here remain anywhere in it when it’s finally and fully released into the end-user wild.

    Or so it is my opinion… my two cents worth, as it were…

    …which my ex-wife, for example, among others, has been known to quickly attest tends to be about all it’s usually worth.

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California

  • I find it amusing when people say things like “Wave will never replace traditional email.” So called traditional email has been replaced many times over the last few decades. It only makes sense that the critical communication components will continue to evolve and people will look for a merging of communication technologies.

    I think we have to understand that the idea of “traditional computing” is changing and the approach we took to solutions 10 years ago no longer applies. Those who continue to embrace “traditional” solutions, especially in business, will find themselves left behind.

    The exciting this about Wave is the Open Source approach to development. It’s not a technology that’s going to be thrust upon the masses. If you have concerns about privacy, you have the ability to address those concerns yourself. You want to modify the functionality to suit your particular needs? Feel free.

    This is an exciting step in the evolution of communication and I have no doubt that the innovation in Wave will spark even more creative solutions.

  • Steve Black

    Gregg L. DesElms

    The core technology of Waves ALLOWS for real time communication but does not demand it.

    You pose a very useful set of client extensions which you could write in your own private wave with full security, then choose to include in group waves for others to share.

    I can imaging that a public wave would get dumped with all sorts of rubbish so there will have to be controls such as read only, immutable, etc for some situations.

    where it comes alive is in the group space where we naturally give up one layer of privacy to participate. this is voluntary.

    The technology still holds water in the private space (better get all the good puns out early) and with encrpyion robots could be stronger than email because of its openness and flexibility. You can create and use and persist and track a wave for private purposes. I can see a DRM and escrow robots being very busy.

    I can’t see how you can bag a brand new untested technology like this. It is like down playing roads. they will lead to bad places, sure but you choose where to go.

    see you in some fantastic new places, most as yet unimagined.