Here’s a fun fact: email was first used in 1965.  That means it predates the internet, hell it even predates ARPANET, which was the precursor to the internet.  Sadly, nobody has cared to improve email in the past 44 years aside from the addition of MIME, which allowed the sending of embedded multimedia.

At its very essence, email is the digital equivalent to snail mail (postal service).  You take a simple message and perhaps some attachments, and send it to either a single person  or to a group of people.  The communication path however, is disjointed.  Depending on how the recipients of your message respond, the conversation can become an entwined, branching mess of time-wasting garbage.  And if somebody is added late to the trail of emails, catching up on the conversation becomes an exercise in scrolling and skimming, which can only lead to overlooking pertinent threads of the conversation.

While email is meant to be a tool used today in business for collaboration and efficient communication, most (if not all) companies are turning towards alternative means of collaboration to enhance the way that their employees work.  Whether it be a company wide twitter platform, or an intranet blogging platform, or even simply instant messaging services the growing trend is that email is nearing it’s end.  The people have spoken, and email simply doesn’t cut it in the world of twitter, the blogosphere, and Gmail anymore.

Imagine if you will, that email was invented today.  What kinds of features would you expect it to have?  Naturally there has to be the idea of exchanging messages, but what about collaboration?  And document control?  Or how about embedding web applications and videos?  Real-time polls?  Comments?  Threading?  Instant communication?  Automatic spell check?  What about robots?  If an email is truly an electronic message, what’s stopping you from using it to command your home computer to start downloading a certain movie while you’re at work, or to turn your crock pot on?  The answer is simple: email is holding you back.

Google Wave is an entirely new approach the to idea of exchange.  It’s not just the replacement for email, it’s an entirely new way to think.  If you have 80 minutes to spare, it would behoove you to watch the video embedded below.  If you can’t spare that kind of time, simply read on for some highlights.

Document Control

Let’s imagine that an email is sent out with a draft document attached for review by a group of three colleagues.  Each recipient could modify one single line in the document and send it back.  Suddenly there exists four distinct versions of the document, and three different conversations about justification for said change.  Keep in mind how common place it is for email recipients to add and remove contacts from the chain willy-nilly, and suddenly we have a disaster on our hands.  Manually merging everybody’s ideas and reiterating the justification behind each change to somebody who wasn’t on copy to that snippet of the conversation becomes a huge detractor in productivity.

With Google Wave, the wave isn’t a carrier for a document to be passed around from recipient to recipient, but rather the wave is the document.  Instead of being a conversation with an attached document, the wave is the document with attached conversations.  When an individual in the wave wants to revise a sentence, they can add a comment to justify their change.  If another participant had something to append to their comment they could easily do so as if they were commenting on a blog post.  This type of collaboration all happens “on top” of the wave, meanwhile the product of the wave (or rather the wave itself as the product) maintains a persistent “final” copy of itself.  Once the collaboration has completed and the product is in a final state, the wave can be broken off into a new wave with only the end document as the first part of the new wave.

Playback

With regards to the previous example, a person entering the wave late might be somewhat lost.  Of course, they could always look at the wave’s “product”, but what if they were interested in how the wave arrived at its current state.  The wave could appear to them to be simply a mess of diagrams, comments, threads, videos and ideas.  The idea of Wave Playback intends to alleviate such situations by playing the entire wave back to the viewer like a movie (or like a slideshow if you prefer).  You can step through each and every change no matter how minor, or you can simply hit “Play” and watch the entire process unfold in front of you.  Gone will be the days of scrolling through a long chain of emails and opening disparate attachments trying to get up to speed on a broken conversation.

Collaboration

In the video above, they mention that over half of your time in an instant message conversation is spent staring at a message indicating your chat partner is crafting a response.  Think about how much time you’ve wasted staring at that message.  Waves will change that, as you’ll see exactly what each person in the wave is typing at any point in time.  Of course there’s way to disable this real-time view for the squeamish, but what’s the fun in that?  Seeing responses in real-time as their created is more akin to being part of an actual conversation instead a broken tree of simple communiques.

APIs

Just like Google Maps and Google Documents, Wave will have plenty of API for embedding it in web pages and internet-connected mobile devices.  Not only that, but wave isn’t a web app in the sense that it exists on Google’s servers entirely.  In fact, it doesn’t have to exist on their servers at all!  Wave is a new medium through which to communicate.  In order to replace email, Wave needs to be a solution and not a product.  Thus, wave is the kind of platform that can be hosted on any server much like a company has internal mail servers (soon they will be replaced with internal wave servers).  Imagine being able to embed a wave on a company’s internal wiki.  Participants can ensure that the most relevant and up-to-date information is instantly published as it’s created, and those who refer to the wiki for information will always be current.  The possibilities are astounding, and even Google has admitted that they didn’t know how Wave would be used when they created it, but they’re discovering more uses for it every day.

Sadly, for the time being Wave is an invite-only early beta solution.  If you’d like more information on Wave, along with a handful of short snippets from the 80+ minute demo above, visit this page.

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