Google Wave: What Might Email Look Like If It Were Invented Today?

Yesterday’s Google I/O keynote highlighted the power of HTML 5 to match functionality long experienced in desktop applications. This morning, Google plans to announce an HTML 5-based application – still very much in the early stages of development – that represents a profound advance in the state of the art.

Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the original creators of Google Maps, will take the stage to unveil their latest project, Google Wave. As Lars describes it, “We set out to answer the question: What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?”

That is exactly the right question, and one that every developer should be asking him or herself. The world of computing has changed, profoundly, yet so many of our applications bear the burden of decades of old thinking. We need to challenge our assumptions and re-imagine the tools we take for granted. It’s perhaps no accident that this project, carried out secretly at Google’s Sydney office over the past two years, had the code name Walkabout. That’s the Australian aboriginal tradition of going off for an extended period to retrace the songlines and learn the world anew.

In answering the question, Jens, Lars, and team re-imagined email and instant-messaging in a connected world, a world in which messages no longer need to be sent from one place to another, but could become a conversation in the cloud. Effectively, a message (a wave) is a shared communications space with elements drawn from email, instant messaging, social networking, and even wikis.

It turns out that Jens had the idea back in 2004, when Google first acquired the company that became Google Maps. As Lars tells the story:

We were excited to join Google and help create what would become Google Maps. But we also started thinking about what might come next for us after maps.

As always, Jens came up with the answer: communication. He pointed out that two of the most spectacular successes in digital communication, email and instant messaging, were originally designed in the ’60s to imitate analog formats — email mimicked snail mail, and IM mimicked phone calls. Since then, so many different forms of communication had been invented — blogs, wikis, collaborative documents, etc. — and computers and networks had dramatically improved. So Jens proposed a new communications model that presumed all these advances as a starting point….

We started with a set of tough questions:

  • Why do we have to live with divides between different types of communication — email versus chat, or conversations versus documents?

  • Could a single communications model span all or most of the systems in use on the web today, in one smooth continuum? How simple could we make it?
  • What if we tried designing a communications system that took advantage of computers’ current abilities, rather than imitating non-electronic forms?

Responding in Context

Let’s say I want to communicate with someone. I start a wave, just as I might start an email message. The recipient(s) see an incoming wave, just as they see an email today. Where the magic starts is with replies. In email, you have the choice of including no context, only a portion of the message you’re replying to, or the whole thing. In the first case, you need to go back to the original message for context; in the second, you have wasted copies going back and forth. Come into the middle of a long thread and you may be replying to a discussion that has already moved on or covered the point you want to express. But what if there were only one message, shared in the cloud? Now, your comment on the second paragraph is attached directly to that point in the conversation. There are no redundant copies of portions of the message, as replies are seen in context.

As you can see in the screenshot below (click to enlarge), a Wave inbox looks much like an email inbox. But look to the right, and you can see how the replies are embedded right into the middle of the original message, so Stephanie’s question about what camera Jens used for his photos appears right in context.


Now, you might ask how well this works for long, complex messages rather than the short one shown in the demo. I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that Wave will be even stronger in that case. Our experience with collaborative editing of book manuscripts at O’Reilly suggests that the amount and quality of participation goes up radically when comments can be interleaved at a paragraph level.

Is it a particle or a wave? It’s both.

First generation email/IM integration let you see when someone was online, and opt to instant message someone rather than send them an email. Wave simply erases the distinction.

If both people are online at the same time, a wave acts just like an instant message — except that you see each character as it is typed, just like in subethaedit. “In our experience, a lot of time in IM is spent waiting for the other person to press ‘Done’,” says Lars. (However, it is possible to set Wave to hold your messages till you are done.)

A key point here is that Google’s relentless focus on reducing the latency of online actions is bringing the online experience closer and closer to our real world experience of face-to-face communication. When you’re talking with someone, you know what someone is saying before they finish their sentence. You can respond, or even finish their sentence for them. So too with Wave.

The real-time connectedness of Wave is truly impressive. Drop photos onto a wave and see the thumbnails appear on the other person’s machine before the photos are even finished uploading.

Step by step playback draws a cheer

Let’s say you are added to a conversation (a wave) that has been going on for a long time? You can be added at any relevant point, not just the end. But even cooler, you can do a playback of the entire evolution of the conversation.

But wait: there’s more! Let’s say you want to edit your message (or even a message that was written by another participant in the wave). Yes, you can. The original author is notified, but every participant can see that the message has been modified, and if they want, can replay the changes.

This leads to a change in behavior: conversations become shared documents.
The screenshot below shows a simple example, as Gregory and Casey collaborate to produce a good answer to Dan’s question. As Stephanie Hannon, the product manager for Googe Wave, said to me, “In Wave, you don’t have to make the choice between discussing and collaborating.”


As anyone who’s used version control knows, a document with lots of discussion and edits can become pretty messy. No problem. You can export an edited wave as a new wave, and start over. “One of our design principles,” says Lars, “is that the product of a wave can be as important as the original wave.”

Nor do you need to include everyone in every part of a conversation. Essentially, Lars, says, “waves are tree-shaped sets of messages. You can shape a subtree, or a sub-conversation and limit the set of participants in any way you like.”

Wave as a Platform

Wave is more than a product. As Lars explains:

The Google Wave product (available as a developer preview) is the web application people will use to access and edit waves. It’s an HTML 5 app, built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions like desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).

Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.

The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the “live” concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone’s Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave.

Anyone who’s followed my writing knows that I’m a huge fan of simple systems with extensible architectures. So I was excited to see that the team didn’t lard lots of features into the core product, but instead added new features via the Wave APIs, much as they hope third party developers will do.

One useful extension, Polly (Poll-y) lets you incorporate polls into a wave. In the wave shown below, participants are asked whether they can make it to a party. Responses appear immediately in the wave. That’s the way these things ought to work! No jumping to a website to see the results of an Evite or a poll.


(I should note that the ever-prescient Jon Udell showed how to hack existing tools to similar effect in his 2001 book Practical Internet Groupware. It was one of the books I’m proudest of publishing, despite its commercial failure. It was just too far ahead of its time.)

The API has been used to build a bunch of cool extensions:
Bloggy, a blog client, lets you make a blog post as a wave. When people comment, they join the conversation.
Spelly is a spell-checker that uses the entire corpus of the web as its dictionary.
Linky is a link-recognition engine that is clever enough to recognize that the link you just entered is a YouTube video, or a link to a photo, and give you the option to embed the target of the link into the wave.
There’s even a twitter client – you can tweet into and out of a wave!
And of course, buggy, a bug-reporting tool that can also be a participant in a wave.

Wave can also be used as the base for interactive games. For example, here’s a real-time interactive chess game in Wave:


Open Source, Open Protocol, and Federated Wave Clouds

Google wants other providers to adopt Wave – the protocol allows federation between independent Wave clouds. The team hopes that Wave will become as ubiquitous and interoperable as email and instant messaging, not just a Google product.

I support this vision. The Wave team has done a great job, but for Wave to really succeed, it needs to become a new fundamental service on the net. An open protocol means that anyone can build their own Wave services – everything from Wave servers to Wave extensions. But open source means that people can push the envelope in adapting the service to new environments, devices, and use cases.

I’m hopeful that the industry will take up the challenge, and build on what is being shown at Google I/O this morning. Eric Raymond noted that every open source project begins with a plausible promise. There’s no question that the plausible promise is on stage this morning. I hope the folks in the audience at Google I/O, as well as those at Yahoo!, Microsoft, and elsewhere, get on the bandwagon as well. I’m eager to move from email and IM to Wave!

Aside: The fact that this application was built using GWT and HTML 5 really emphasizes Vic Gundotra’s points from yesterday, that web applications can not only match, but can even beat the functionality of native apps. It’s not just HTML 5, though. It’s the commitment to the lightweight nature of the web, to real-time, to lightweight components connected by open protocols rather than to monolithic systems.

Make it New!

Ezra Pound once wrote: “”The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth.” And elsewhere: “Make it new!”

Even more than the application itself, I love the way Wave doesn’t just build on what went before but starts over. In demonstrating the power of the shared, real-time information space, Jens and Lars show a keen understanding of how the cloud changes applications.

When I saw Wave for the first time on Monday, I realized that we’re at a kind of DOS/Windows divide in the era of cloud applications. Suddenly, familiar applications look as old-fashioned as DOS applications looked as the GUI era took flight. Now that the web is the platform, it’s time to take another look at every application we use today, and ask the same question Lars and Jens asked themselves: “What would this look like if we invented it today instead of twenty-five years ago?”

For more information

The following links may not be live until the end of this morning’s keynote at about 10:15 am Pacific time: the eventual home for Google Wave. For now a place to learn more and sign up to be notified when we launch home for the API, documentation and sample code. home for the protocol specs (draft), whitepapers and a discussion forum about the open google wave protocol


The Google I/O demo of Wave is now available on YouTube. It’s embedded below:

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  • This could be huge. I’m looking forward to using it, but also want to get involved and help create compatible software. Having just left the Elgg open source project last month, I have other ideas I want to put forward, and this seems like a very good fit indeed.

  • only had a brief read,, sounds like friendfeed!

  • Sounds a LOT like FriendFeed. This appears to be a shot at the real-time social web (in relation to friends). However, I guess it’s not as public which is one interesting difference.

  • Ok, maybe friendfeed with benefits

  • friendfeed w/ benefits…*snort* +1!

  • I really love Google’s thinking and ideas but they absolutely must let some designers into the top tiers of their structures. As it stands now, the few screenshots here look horribly clutterred and confusing. Email is looking rather decrepit these days; part of that is because it works pretty ideally in a terminal window. I’m not sure that a great idea like this deserves to be cloistered in a windows with panels construction.

    The idea is great, the execution; not so much.

  • The “outlook” model is a concept that we can all dive straight into. It may not look pretty at the moment but leaping too far into the unknown will put off a lot of people.

  • It sounds fascinating; can’t wait to see more. As an aside, I second the nod to Jon Udell and “Practical Internet Groupware”…that book blew my mind when I first read it. As you said, it was too far ahead of it’s time. Jon is a unique guy.

  • Great write-up.

    I’m reminded of Disqus, which turns a flat comment based system into a much more useful tree-based discussion system.

    I’m still surprised Google hasn’t launched a platform which allows their applications to coexist within the same browser tab. When (if) that happens the dawn of the true distributed web OS will be upon us.

  • Google Wave looks essentially like a platform that is aimed at moving into the social networking space (after the failure of mass adoption of Orkut) with a mixture of social networking + content management described as “People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.” Now i don’t really see this as initialy direct competition to facebook per se but does help create a more ubiquitous web content experience by easily pulling various application, people and content together through a simple browser interface. Will be interesting to see the adoption of Google Wave and how this impacts web based communications. It seems like the next level beyond just social networking if over time it get traction.

  • So many different platforms out there already, will one make a big difference. Unless it’s a killer application. Rgds Vince

  • Makes a hell of a lot of sense, especially as an open platform play.

    My simple net out is that this is a model that deals elegantly with both messages and payloads, where the payloads could be pics, videos, posts, songs, maps, people/product/business listings, etc.

    As such, there is a lot of value in how the handling layer processes these messages/payloads, enabling them to be aggregated and/or filtered into logical constructs, like NOW, LOCAL, TYPE, POPULAR, VIRAL, ENGAGING, etc.

    I blogged about an application model that is very complimentary to this (and for which I have modeled out six very specific use cases) in a post called:

    “Right Here Now” services: weaving a real-time web around status

    Check it out if interested.


  • Now the question for late 2009-early 2010… does FriendFeed need to integrate (even integrate into) Wave?

  • Immediate reflection is that this will be more for tight-knit correspondence, ala email — more of a threat to Facebook’s model than to Friendfeed’s (where broadcasting and discussion among people barely acquainted are the modes). Tho plenty of room for all.

  • Cam

    Would an OS look much different if the same “start from scratch” approach was taken?

  • Christopher G

    Now the question for late 2009-early 2010… does FriendFeed need to integrate (even integrate into) Wave?

    Immediate reflection is that this will be more for tight-knit correspondence, ala email — more of a threat to Facebook’s model than to Friendfeed’s (where broadcasting and discussion among people barely acquainted are the modes). Tho plenty of room for all.

  • Cam –

    Absolutely. BeOS was a great example. But getting OS adoption is hard.

  • Now the question for late 2009-early 2010… does FriendFeed need to integrate (even integrate into) Wave? Immediate reflection is that this will be more for tight-knit correspondence, ala email — more of a threat to Facebook’s model than to Friendfeed’s (where broadcasting and discussion among people barely acquainted are the modes). Tho plenty of room for all.

  • It looks a lot like my waveforms. They both are essentially enhanced structured email which allow collaborative work. Waveforms can also embed flash, docs, spreadsheets, twitter gadgets, videos, etc., and drag-n-drop is on my road map. “San Mateo Waveforms” runs on app engine and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that google wave runs on app engine as well.

    I don’t know wether to feel vindicated or ripped-off.
    Tim Nash

  • Joe

    We agree with Google. This is the same idea behind our newly launched startup,

    If you don’t want to wait for Google Wave to see updates from everyone in real time, check it out.

  • re: Mark Sigal >>> open platform play.

    this. absolutely.

    Kudos to Google for being a benevolent dictator in this sense, if Wave does fail to be another Orkut, and seizes the hearts and minds of many. And kudos to Google for an amazing name choice! Wave as in ocean, wave as in particle, wave as in salutation, wave as in interpellation. Very rich territory.

    And I’ll third the nod to Jon Udell and “Practical Internet Groupware”. Cheers!

  • David Wright

    Sounds like what Chandler was trying to get at

  • One difference between google’s wave and our waveforms is that our waveforms can run without the internet. We have a version that runs on Plone the open source CMS.

    Thinking of making our waveforms open source. What do you think? email me at “thedagdae commercial-at-sign” or

  • Great post and analysis!

    Considering the timing of these release, stealing thunder from Microsoft’s Bing release and marketing push, this seems like a massive PR FU from Goog to MSoft:

  • It sounds like Wave tries to address moving private conversations to something a bit more wiki-like, with who has access controlled tightly.

    I’m not clear on how much it addresses the problem of conversations moving fluidly between more and less open spaces.

    So many of my conversations have already moved from more private threaded conversations (email/IM/SMS) to (semi-)public spaces that are more shared and/or more collaboritive. For example, writing on Facebook wall rather than Fb message or IM, twitter, blog posts and comments, various internal and external wiki’s.

    To the extent that I’m fine moving stuff out of email and into these other venues, does Wave really help me? Or is it inclusive of them?

    Can Wave help me organize conversation not just by participants, but also by topic and geography or other interesting index?

  • Alvis –

    The idea that Google timed the Wave announcement to upstage Bing is silly. The Google I/O conference has been scheduled for a LONG time, and it’s the natural place for Google to announce something like this.

    Meanwhile, Bing was unveiled at D (I think), another long-scheduled conference.

    It’s a coincidence, not a strategy on the part of either company.

  • Congratulations, Google: you just re-invented Ray Ozzie’s Groove.

  • Ethan

    Shelley, Groove was my first thought as well. Another example of Microsoft having purchased some well-ahead-of-the-curve technology and absorbed it into insignificance.

    I was a serious advocate for Groove in its prime (managing several large corporate roll outs) and until now felt that we still hadn’t seen a replacement that matched its features and innovation.

    Despite my affection for Groove and its obvious similarities (even on a protocol / distributed architecture level) with Wave, I doubt that Groove would have become Wave. Groove Networks never showed much initiative in pushing it to different platforms (we lobbied for Mac clients for years unsuccessfully) and the jump to a web service, while possible, would likely have been as proprietary as the desktop apps.

    Google really is the only company (outside MS which doesn’t have the credibility) that can establish a new standard like this, produce a functional product, and hope to see it adopted in the way email was in days gone by.

    A question for the technology historians will be whether Groove represents cro-magnons or neanderthals. I.e. whether the experiment of Groove had any lasting impact on the genetics of cloud computing or whether is was merely a developmental cul-de-sac, despite superficial similarity, on our way to Wave.

  • Spot on, Shelley. In the press conference after today’s demo, I asked Vic Gundotra if he’d reached out to Ray, and he said he hadn’t yet, but would do so soon.

    This certainly has many Groove-like elements, but I wouldn’t say it is “just” a reinvention of Groove.

    Groove was a child of the PC era. The vision was the same, but the implementation and user experience was very different.

  • Ken Kennedy

    Good point, Tim…I’ve been thinking in terms of the “Google Wave == open Groove” meme myself, but you’re spot on that the move from PCs to browsers as clients is another huge difference. HTML 5 continues to be a big, big deal, and Microsoft is hobbled by the success of it’s PC-centric apps. Classic Innovator’s Dilemma issue; Microsoft hasn’t yet figured a way out of it.

  • Thought I should put a pointer here to another short post I just wrote: Google Wave: The Early Days.

  • Robin Gambhir

    Adoption for this is easy. All they have to do is make it the UI for gmail and it’s done. Gmail, Google apps and a forthcoming litany of small, free services will eventually give Google the same kind of power that saddled MS with an antitrust case. We switched our company to Google apps and now the only reason we run our SBS server is because it receives and stores our faxes on exchange. If Google had a fax service (available in Canada) we’d dump our MS exchange server in a heartbeat.

  • Great to see Jon Udell’s book get a shoutout — and great to see some back-to-the-future progress here.

  • re: BeOS

    BeOS was ahead of its time, to be sure. The good folks at know full well the struggle it is to (re)create an OS from the ground up.

    I really feel we (as a collective internet consciousness) are at the precipice of a great journey, overlooking a wide and deep chasm filled with undiscovered treasures. Google Wave focuses very sharply the communication ideas that have evolved to this point thus far, and will allow us to use it as a tool to write the future ideas into reality.

    The OS and the Web are no longer separated by a great divide, instead they are hurtling towards each other at speed (plaid! :) and may become so fused together that to tell each apart would be meaningless.

    I have not been this excited about a new idea coming to bear in a very long time, it definitely allows the creative juice to runneth over the cup, absolutely.

  • It sounds like Wave tries to expanding stream of information based on ‘social network’ have focused primarily on real world environmental and social models.

  • Andrew C

    Please invest the time and view the full presentation. This isn’t Google taking a page out of friendfeed or twitter. Nor are they competing with Facebook. They just ate Microsoft’s lunch!

    Sharepoint, why bother?
    Exchange/Outlook, dated.

    And we’ll all remember today as the day Bing was overshadowed.

  • Wave should make use of RDF/OWL for representing the messages, parts of messages, dialogue participants, etc. The software needed would be a messaging server that could handle the specific triple store requests needed for presenting data in a “wave” manner. The GUI is a no brainer and everyone could build one supporting the concept various way.

    Instead Google is trying to create a lock in with everybody having to use a Google account login, tying up their development efforts with Googles proprietary data definitions.

    So Google has created a semantic web application except that they are using their own locked data definitions that are NOT open.

  • “What would this look like if we invented it *TOMORROW* instead of twenty-five years ago?”

  • imma

    Looks like so many different web apps, all working together & designed not to be a propriatory app but an open standard :-D

  • William J. Edney

    Some thoughts:

    1. When Tim O. reminded me above of Practical Internet Groupware, I remembered reading that book and thinking all of this was right around the corner… only took 10 years! Shout out to Jon Udell – a true visionary, way ahead of his time.

    2. Shelley and Tim O. are spot-on with the comparisons to Groove. Google needs to add voice to complete the circle, but they’ll get there. Funny that when Azure was announced, Ray Ozzie was on about how an open source competitor to Live Mesh would be XMPP-based… and so it is. The Wave protocol is a set of extensions to XMPP (Jabber). Interestingly enough, the voice stuff used by Google Talk is being codified in a set of extensions to XMPP known as Jingle. So its all coming together.

    3. The first time I ever heard about distributed Event-driven architectures was in 1992 – by one of my best friends – who now works for Google :-) (but not on Wave…) Good ideas never die :-)

    4. They’re taking the right approach by not just open sourcing a client and a server (so that private, non-Internet wave tools can exist in-house), but standardizing the protocol so that the Wave protocol becomes like SMTP.

    4. While my initial reaction is excitement, I read some of the blog posts above and there are times when I think Google is just as bad as Microsoft was during its halcyon days, only worse.

    Why are they as bad?

    Just like Microsoft, they come into a market like an 800lb gorilla and anyone who had real, creative ideas and the willingness to work hard and take risks and give it everything they’ve got is just swept away.

    Why are they worse?

    1. Because, unlike even Microsoft in its heyday, Google doesn’t have to make a dime off of any of the core technology – they’ll just open source that and give it away. At least with Microsoft, if you were a small vendor with an innovative idea, you might get acquired in order for them to get all of the standard business advantages (time to market being the most obvious). That’s because Microsoft is a software company. Google is really a marketing company who also happens to employ 20,000 geeks who like to hack cool stuff.

    2. Google can ‘distribute’ its software product with a simple URL, so they don’t even have the channel / cost of goods / advertising problems that retail software used to have.

    So, unless you work on the AdWords team, whatever you’re producing at Google is not a profit center (I’m not saying it doesn’t have business value – that’s different). This has a dampening effect on those trying to work on or get funding for development of new core technologies because the VC will say “Google is doing it and they don’t even have to make money doing it, so why should I give you money to try?” or even worse “Well, that’s such a fundamental technology that Google *might* do it in the future, so don’t even bother starting…” I’m thinking that’s not so good for the “engine of innovation”…

    A (different) friend of mine said that Larry and Sergey practice a modern form of ‘noblesse oblige’ — and that may be true. But if you’re trying to compete with the guy that’s getting funded by the King, it can be hell.


    – Bill

  • I cant’t wait to see Google Wave in action, but everyboys who says that Google starts to take over the universe seem right.

  • Bruce G

    Ditto on most previous comments but a new idea thread here: with the massive increase in the ubiquity of advanced mobility platforms the question is, how will this technology play out on an iPhone or similar? Does the “wave” assume everone has a 22″ flatscreen? If this was invented for “today” wouldn’t it need to be mobile friendly to be widely accepted as the “next best thing?” …or maybe it will play well on mobile?

  • Bruce

    Would be nice if, instead of using local document ids for content in a wave, they were to use URIs.

  • Joan Verdaguer

    The answer to the question in the title of your article is two words: evolution and revolution.
    In one of my old work entitled “Darwin law in electronics?”, I explain this phenomenon of evolution and revolution.
    If we review the history of the seventies, we see that Rockwell did with the 6502 cpu, to submit a computer with a typewriter keyboard instead of computer keyboard (keys 20).
    Also HP did it, when redefined the HP-25 revolutionizing the student world introducing “continuus memory” with the HP-25C.
    What did the authors of Google Wave is a classic Darwinian process. Both members have experience, so they evolve, but also develop, so that people who are non-expert will can incorporate to this development.
    doing something new (revolutionary) that will not break the line of evolutionary continuity.
    In short Google Wave is revolutionary, it will change the way of working today with informatic documents, and also at the same time is an evolution because integrates our way of expressing in written, oral and visual. Something that today is absolutely necessary.
    Thanks Google.

  • bowerbird

    such good ideas
    their implementation is
    bound to be screwed up

    the only question
    will be whether google or
    others screw ’em up


  • “We set out to answer the question: What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?”

    It would not allow spam?

    Wondering how is Wave better in this respect.

  • Trevor

    I think if this takes off with the OpenSource and ability for companies to house their own wave servers, it will be an Internet game changer.

  • @Cam , @Tim

    Regarding the OS from scratch, there is a recent project that is started by Andrew Tanenbaum to design a new Operating System. I’m not quite sure how it will cooperate with the cloud though, as I think you are wondering.

    See the project proposal here:

  • Here’s a better link for Jon Udell’s Practical Internet Groupware
    (since the book is out of print.) I had to search for it, so I guess it makes sense to share:

  • bowerbird

    if it was really a book that was before its time,
    it’s a shame it’s now locked behind a paywall…


  • bowerbird –

    At O’Reilly, we put out of print books on (with the authors’ permission.) When I went to link to Practical Internet Groupware, that was the first place I looked, and when I saw it wasn’t there, I immediately put in place the process to get it there.

    Meanwhile, the fact that it is available in Safari means that hundreds of thousands of subscribers plus folks at many public libraries and universities have access to it now.

    If not for the “paywall” of print book pricing, the book wouldn’t have existed in the first place. While a lot of great content is created for free online, there are many other things that get created when there is an economic motive.

    It’s urgent for the future of publishing for there to be economic models for digital publishing, or you will find yourself poorer, not richer, as a result. That’s what we’re doing with Safari Books Online: building an economic model so we can keep publishing in an all-digital future. If you’ve ever benefited from an O’Reilly book, you shouldn’t be sneering at it.

    As the Perl folks say, “There’s more than one way to do it.” Or as Lao Tzu says,

    People through finding something beautiful
    Think something else unbeautiful…
    But…the varying of tones gives music to a voice

    I’m all for free content when people can make it work, and all for paid content when that’s the only way to make good things happen. You pick the hat to fit the head.

    Our goal should be the creation of maximum value to society. Sometimes free creates more value, and sometimes paid creates more value. The smart person, and the smart company, knows how to use both.

  • Anonymous

    I realy like google wave so far. But it seems that it does not solve two of the problems of e-mail: spam and (especially userfriendly) end to end encryption. Or did I miss that?

  • Having been working on a Wave-like technology for almost a year already, I find Google’s Wave a pretty interesting concept. On the other hand the typical “it is a web product” bias really do a disservice to the entire concept.

    Technology have pushed us in a direction that we wouldnt have though 20 years from now and I feel that we are at the edge of a very important cultural change that will unleash a new wave (no pun intended) of software applications and methods.

    IMHO the real key of what the Google’s guys have done is leverage the most important characteristics into a known product. Definitely they havent created a new product by itself.

    It is mind blowing for almost anyone? Yes, but because they have been never been exposed to the underlaying ideas yet. When we did our first prototype (you can see it at we started to find millions of ways you can do things better using that technology and it definitely has the potential to really change the landscape of software.

    I have done an entire post at our company blog dissecting the technology behind Google’s Wave at for the technical people if you are interested.


  • very interesting. As someone that works out the ‘front end’ (see also ‘people’ end) of digital communications I would love to see more emphasis on people and less on technology and architecture. These tools will always stay filed in the ‘geeky early adopter’ box unless Google humans them up a bit. I still spend a lot of time explaining social media apps to people that say ‘why?’. Make sure to keep answering the mainstream ‘Why?’ Google and ps-how about including some drivers instead of just engineers in your testing? ;-) Love you’re work and great article Tim.

  • Arman Eshraghi

    The same as Microsoft, Google started from consumer market and then into business/corporate software. Selling Business Gmail against Exchange is a good example.

    The fact that Google Wave can be deployed and extended by business, will help Google to be more completive against Exchange/outlook.

    Another big potential for Google Wave is to grow and extend to become a better MS SharePoint.

  • The comparison to Groove, and the parallels to ‘Practical Groupware’ also occurred to me (BTW, thank you Tim for starting the process of getting a version of it up on Openbooks!).

    But what struck me most is that this reinvention of email and the erasure of the distinction between collaboration and conversation is essentially private.

    A large part of Jon’s book was concerned with taking public tools for conversation and collaboration and deploying them privately.

    But there is just as great a need for the reinvention of NNTP (and mailing lists, and forums, etc.) in the age of the wiki (eg. see the horrors of Wikipedia’s ‘discussion pages’) for *public* collaboration and conversation. Some of this seems like it can be accomplished by adding ‘bots’ to the conversation that can mirror the wave to some public context, but what happens when 100s or 100s of participants each put their 2 cents in? The Wave team made a joke about making flame wars more efficient, but how about edit wars?

  • Umm. The fourth paragraph above should have read ‘100s or 1000s’.

  • Gah. ‘stuck me most’? ‘Thanks you Tim’? I should wait until I’ve finished my coffee. Incidentally, I’ve corrected all these mistaks on the FriendFeed instance of the comment. If this was a wave, I suppose those edits would be reflected here.

  • Uh-oh. Looks like edits in FF *are* reflected here, but long comments then become truncated, and they lose the extra line-breaks. Hmm.

  • Reposting the second half of my comment here:

    Another set of problems occurs to me: We understand more-or-less the implications of having multiple email accounts, and our email clients have features to support this, but what does it mean to have multiple Wave accounts, especially on separate Wave servers?

    For that matter, when you leave Acme or Initech, can you take your waves with you by moving them to a new server? Does this break the connections with other participants or preserve them? Wave may be email reinvented for the modern cloud-based world, but that also means that it is likely to highlight the issues of freedom in the cloud in the starkest way possible.

  • “Our goal should be the creation of maximum value to society. Sometimes free creates more value, and sometimes paid creates more value. The smart person, and the smart company, knows how to use both.”

    Completely agree, Tim, and I’d like to point out that having an income helps contributors continue to share their knowledge and expertise. Giving, giving, giving without monetary compensation can lead to burnout and resentment, which doesn’t help anyone.

  • bowerbird


    well, you’re welcome for giving you the opportunity to
    repeat your little riff here again on free versus not-free.

    so now i guess i’m free to give a little response of my own.

    when you said the book was ahead of its time, i took that
    as meaning that it would _not_ be outdated at this time…

    and since you said it was out of print, i took _that_ to mean
    that you’d squeezed all the profit potential out of the thing.

    putting those two thoughts together lead me to _suggest_
    that you could put out the book, for free, to good result…

    and indeed, you said you had expected yourself that you
    had already done so, so i wasn’t too far off the mark, eh?

    and indeed, you said then when you discovered that you
    hadn’t actually already done it, you decided to do it, and
    put into motion the sequence by which it would be done.
    so — once again — i wasn’t too far off the mark, was i?

    but let’s take a look at the offsetting argument in this case.

    because the book is in safari, it _is_ generating some cash,
    at least as far as it contributes as a member of your “pool”.
    so there is some countervailing weight to making it “free”…

    is this going to turn into a problem in our future?

    in the past, publishers that took a book out of print would
    — sometimes via contract, sometimes via more-informal
    “understandings” — turn all the rights back to the authors.

    however, with print-on-demand satisfying the technicality
    of avoiding an “out-of-print” status, will publishers now
    cling to their older works in order to compose an online
    “corpus” of their works as a potential source of income?

    if so, it would be just one more way that publishers are
    screwing authors, all under the guise of “helping” them.

    i’m not that worried about tomorrow’s works, because the
    authors now know they need to steer clear of middlemen;
    but yesterday’s authors are being screwed left and right…

    i’m not making any specific charges, especially not toward
    o’reilly publishing, just issuing notice to people to keep an
    eye out for what the publishers might be doing next…


  • Great article, just to mention that I really liked the text-to-speech feature, I’m a user that does read by text-to-speech, having it streamed, readily available was cool. The title is so what he said in the keynote. That represents Wave in all aspects.

  • Wisegyaks

    I think it’s a very sound foundation for bussiness and personal communication. Seems to me that once everyone gets a hang of this new email setup, it’s surly gonna put instant messaging at the bottom of the box. I just hope it is very compatible with cell phones.

  • wow how moronic are half the comments above, made by people who haven’t understood (or researched) if this truly becomes federated (eg when MS Office becomes Word enabled) this will be bigger than smtp, xmpp, and visicalc. But only…. iif google dont screw it up.

    The Wave App Store for robots alone could be bigger than iPhone 3rd party app store.

    Dean Collins

  • this is huge! well done google. Im sure wave will change the way we think about the world just as google earth did years ago.

    My favourite part of the Demo was when they showed the robot “Rosy” which translated a online chat in real time so that two people could chat in there respected language to each other… simple enough idea but the realisation is ground breaking!

  • Tim

    Hello all!

    At the risk of illustrating my ignorance, can someone help me clear up what Google’s definition of ‘open’ means in this case?

    a) The APIs and protocols are all well-defined, so everyone is on an equal footing when it comes to writing application accordingly. (AKA the Windows system APIs).

    b) The source code for the Wave classes etc is open, so anyone can read (and fork?) that code as they like. (AKA contributed modules for something like Sugar CRM).

    c) The source code for the entire Wave implementation, including the server-side implementation is open, as in the design and source are all available to be read (forked?) as people desire. (AKA the Apache project).

    Of course, the answer might be d (none of the above) which is also fine :-)


  • 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

  • Tim

    OK, I’ll try a shorter question:

    Can some knowledgeable person please explain what people mean when they say that Waves is “open”.


  • Sean Meaney

    I always thought email needed that capacity to ‘send to all’. I suppose anyone not interested simply doesnt bother looking into what everyone else is discussing.

  • This is closer to Engelbart’s, Berners-Lee’s and the many early visions of what the web could be. I think this is big. And even if this particular product fails, the concept and ideal being strived for will never die.

    But I’m not surprised that attempts to describe Google Wave are conflicted. Everyone is trying to understand it in their own terms (their metaphors), while at the same time trying to force their definition on others — you can’t do that. I don’t think strict definitions are that useful at this point — they almost never are. It’s an evolving tool; let people understand it on their own terms as it develops. By definition, it’s going to change as you change it.

    That’s a general truth; I think great works always have this feature.

  • Chris J.

    Tim, the “Community Principles” page of Google’s Wave Federation Protocol site explains some of the senses in which the word “open” is used.

    It refers to the development of the protocol:

    “Today, this open source project is scoped to maintaining the protocol.”

    And to a “reference implementation” of the protocol (code):

    “Later on, in addition to the protocol, this project will grow to maintain a production-quality reference implementation. Google is working to open source the code behind the Google Wave implementation as a way to bootstrap the community.”

    And also to its deployment:

    “Wave is an open network: anyone should be able to become a wave provider and interoperate with the public network.”

  • Anonymous

    We wrote some thoughts about what is coming with wave that we want to share with you and to hear your opinions.

    If you can read Spanish (or just want to practice it :-P)

    We REALLY would love to hear your opinions.

    Thank you very much!!

  • Google Wave Federation Protocol is open to contributions by the broader community with the goal to continue to improve how we share information, together. offers great opportunity for all to participate in the main stream. Especially for the developers I recommend the Developer’s Den.

  • Luddite

    Honestly I think it’s too noisy, e-mail works fine for me…

  • The biggest problem it solves is that you no longer have to write “See comments inline”

  • You may still be able to beg for a Google Wave invite here:

  • The public release of Google Wave (test version) turns a week old today. This is probably the most exciting tech-product since Windows 95 and the iPod (remember the time when screen savers were big business?).

    Google Wave brings into play three key innovations and disruptions.

    First, it makes email come alive. Instead of passive mailbox content that stays the same once delivered, each mail is dynamic, and changes right within your inbox. Cleverly, any wave-mail can be updated. Each time this happens, the mail auto-converts into unread mail, and jumps to the top of the mailbox. This solves the problem of mail clutter and introduces unlimited content versioning.

    Secondly, the Wave opens up conversational communication to online search. Search engines (Google) will now be able to index the previously search-elusive domains of IM and traditional email.

    There is no imagining the acute tilt in the online search playfield this will introduce in favor of Google. Could it be that Microsoft and Yahoo foresaw the coming change and cuddled in despair – not that Micro-hoo would have any less fun owning the Wave.

    Thirdly, and most important, the wave introduces the “push” search engine. For a long time, we have been pulling stuff off the net by prompting search engines. Riding on its leadership in search technology, Google has developed wave “robots”, powered by algorithms that deliver “search intent” results without human provocation. Bots can be added to a wave to perform automated search-based actions. It’s like having an electronic researcher or content provider profiling each user’s mode of thought in real-time, and actively participating in the wave.

    Unlike IBM’s Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s SharePoint Workspace, both of which require IT (and budgets) to implement and manage, Google Wave is likely to find its way into the enterprise without having to go through management given its social network-like face.
    Google Wave is built around conversations. To reinforce this notion, Google has announced plans to give wave users ability to pull in information from other sources such as Twitter; The more the voices, the merrier for Google.

    Google’s strategy of positioning other Enterprise 2.0 tools as wave sources rather than end-points exposes its long term model. To Google’s advantage, everything passing through the wave will be directed via Google’s search factory, making the Wave a Google-centric product despite its marketed “openness”.

    Of course the wave can be privately hosted. Google, however, seems to dissuade this notion by the integrating complex Google-hosted goodies into the Wave. Restricted wave hosting means loss of functionality for robots that source info from Google’s gigantic online databank.
    If Google decides to bundle the Chrome Browser and Wave into its upcoming Chrome OS, and configure it to talk exclusively to a free, hosted Wave Server, it will certainly attract the curiosity equal numbers of developers and anti-trust regulators.

    With talk to Google rushing out its OS to market possibly before the end of 2009, there is reason to believe that formidable competition is at the doorstep.

    I can’t help but think that we have seen only but the first of several waves this season. In this respect my eyes are on Nokia, IBM and Oracle. The Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 events this November in New York and San Francisco should reveal what’s been cooking in the big kitchens.

  • Andy Swarbrick

    So much to read here…

    Just so you know where I am coming from, I was another early adopter of Groove and had Groove running as a web app back in 2001 and the continuously through until it was bought by Microsoft. This was run under the company name PopG. Groove as a company fought against PopG, instead preferring desktop-app delivery. In the end Microsoft bought into Ray and that was that for PopG.

    As for Wave. Yes there are good parallels with Groove. The closest was notepad in realtime where characters were echoes across all collaborators in real-time.

    I feel Wave achieves some things Groove failed at, besides being a web app. It implements tagging, whereas Groove pidgeon-holed everything in to project boxes. It concentrates on short-term-ism. It allows waves to become connected, whereas Groove projects were islands of information.

    Right now Wave is crude. However in my opinion it could be very good. Providing it stays within the concepts of short term ad-hoc collaboration. For example a mind-mapping / brainstorming tool is a must. (I did argue that for Groove and MindManager provided a plugin for a short while…)

    They key to Wave is that should not become a long-term tool. It is to bring people together to get them on the same page, as it were. Once on the same page they should move on to other tools and platforms.

    Wave is saying Hello and not much more. But don’t let that fool you. That hello is very important if not critical to how businesses engage with each other. Think of it as a first date. How many marriages would not exist had there been no first date?

    Oh, and that includes the need for multi-way video sharing. I note today 6rounds released one-one video plugin. Nice try, but Skype can do that. Hmm, will Skype produce a plugin to Wave, or vice-versa. Without the shackles of Ebay…

  • Nirvana Technology And Traders

    Google Wave’s most important innovation, in my view, is the introduction of the ?push? search engine. For a long time, we have been pulling stuff off the net by prompting search engines. Riding on its leadership in search technology, Google has developed wave ?robots?, powered by algorithms that deliver ?search intent? results without human provocation. Bots can be added to a wave to perform automated search-based actions. It?s like having an electronic researcher or content provider profiling each user?s mode of thought in real-time, and actively participating in the wave.

    Google Wave Forum

  • I have many setting in my previous windows in Mozila Firefox, now I’ve installed an onother version of windows on other hardisk.. What should I copy to have the same settings, history and bookmarks from the earlier one?. Nothing is lost I just have an onother windows in another hard and I want to move the mozile setting from the previous to the current one..

  • The question seems to be very interesting, but I really can’t guess. What I feel is the email will look the same as it looked while inventing it. I feel like this because, without email’s invention, I don’t think, internet would have evolved his much. Isn’t it?