Google Wave, an upcoming Web application that mixes old technologies like e-mail, IM and online documents in a unified, socially-oriented view, could break down the traditional ways in which we compartmentalize and separate information - both as consumers and businesspeople.
As Google unveiled Wave at its annual developer conference here in San Francisco, the company revealed it had a small team of engineers working on the Wave project for a couple years. Google opened Wave to developers, who can build tools and apps to run with it (it's essentially open source). The public will not have access to the application until later this year, Google says.
Early reviews have described Wave as a communication and collaboration tool, but the design of it suggests this technology will be something bigger: It combines the myriad trends we've seen the last couple years on the Web into one application.
For consumers, Wave represents Google's answer to the emergence of streaming, or real-time, internet applications, as evidenced primarily by the rise of social networks. A "stream" is represented best by a Twitter homepage or a Facebook News Feed. On those web pages, content flows down the page for you to consume at your leisure. You might comment on a piece of content, share it with friends, or just let it pass downstream without touching it.
Wave seems to embrace this streaming interface by using e-mail and messaging as a starting point. In one fluid view, a Wave homepage includes short messages (think: Twitter), communication with large groups (think: Facebook) and basic collaboration tools to engage with the content (think: instant messaging and e-mail).
The information you share could be something as static as an e-mail message and the ensuing discussion about it, or as dynamic as an event invitation, with a list of your friends who might attend, and a Google Map showing the event location. If you are invited late to a Wave thread, you can hit a replay button that allows you to catch up with what you missed-like Tivo for Web content. Over time, Google wants Wave to work with other websites.
Wave doesn't require your friends to be loyal to one specific web service; it's designed to combine content from places all over the Internet. Because Wave will have its own text editor and allows you to easily upload multi-media content, some speculate whether it will cannibalize core web services (even some of Google's, like Google Docs or Picasa). But it's too early to tell whether or not the service will be advanced enough to have people ditch those apps, if at all.
Since Wave is open source, other popular web apps (like Twitter) can become part of the Wave experience rather easily.