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.