Google (GOOG) is working on radically changing the way we talk to each other on the Internet. Good luck! It’s not going to be easy.
Google’s new communications product — Wave, announced today, and not arriving for a long time — takes the idea of email much further, adding new elements like in-message IM boxes, photo galleries, and even room for widgets and games. We imagine this could have some interesting location-based features someday, and even a fancy ad product.
Wave looks cool, and if it takes off, it might someday become a huge disruption for companies that make a lot of money selling software for plain-old email, such as Microsoft (MSFT). Or companies that focus on real-time messaging, such as Facebook and Twitter. But not soon. A lot will have to happen for Wave to get there.
Wave’s basic business idea is that it’s another free, open-source Google product and an open-source platform/protocol that other companies can install and develop for. (So as much as this might someday disrupt Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange email business, Microsoft could also use Wave if it wanted to, too.) You can find out more details about Wave’s features from this Google blog post, this large screenshot, or this very lengthy article at TechCrunch.
The biggest hurdle: Because Wave is mostly trying to replace two of the most universal Internet tools — email and IM — it’s going to have to be very mainstream to be effective. In other words, for Wave to be useful, either everyone you want to communicate with will need a Google Wave account they check into regularly, or other service providers they check into regularly — Yahoo, Comcast, AIM, Facebook, MobileMe, whatever — will have to support Wave. That’s not going to happen overnight unless you work at Google.
Another obstacle is mobility. Wave’s screenshot looks good on our 24-inch display. But we do half of our email on a phone these days. Wave — the way it looks now, in that screenshot — isn’t going to work on our iPhone. And then it eventually has to work on every device, like email and IM do, or it’s not as good.
We could go on. But we assume the brains at Google have thought about these problems, and will have answers.
For now, Wave is a neat idea. It’s a much bigger shift than how Google’s most popular communications product — Gmail, released in 2004 — tweaked the way its users think about email, by reorganising messages into clusters and by offering virtually unlimited storage for messages and attachments.
But it’s still far away from becoming a real, mainstream product that’s going to replace email, IM, or any other tool we communicate with.
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