Google Wave – a platform in its infancy

Google WaveCamp - photo by Carl Roth

Like many others, the excitement that filled me when I finally got my Google Wave invitation faded once I’d actually logged onto the site.

I sat and stared at it for a few minutes, blinked a few times and said, “Okay, what does it do?”

Google’s latest product can be described in many ways. It’s a combination of e-mail, instant messaging and Twitter. It’s an IRC client with loads of new features added. It’s Google’s version of Microsoft

In an attempt to figure out what I was missing, I attended the first Ottawa WaveCamp over the weekend to spend time with developers and Wave enthusiasts.

“Google has had a lot of guts putting this out there,” said David Cook, founder of Zeta2 Consulting and the organizer for the Ottawa Wave Group. “It is just in the early days.”

Being reminded that Google Wave is pretty much in a pre-alpha release stage did help explain some of the issues I’ve had with it.

For example, in looking for something to do with Wave, I decided to investigate the public Waves, with hundreds of people posting in real-time.

Looking at it lasted about 20 seconds before Firefox crashed.

“It’s more for five or six people getting together on a collaborative project,” said Cook.

Cook explained that much of the enthusiasm for Wave stems from the possibilities it brings.

Wave’s chat room-like interface allows members of the individual “Wave” to see what is being typed in real-time, edit text in the Wave, quickly drop in documents and images as well as pulling in widgets to add even more functionality.

Current uses have included students in a classroom all working on the same notes, or having a planning document open at the same time as a Google Maps widget to plot out a course to go with the document.

However, much more could be done with additional integration.

For example, integrating Wave with Google Health could lead to doctors in different locations working on a patient file at the same time.

Web developer Jean-Pierre Fiset agreed that the possibilities are the exciting part of Google Wave.

“The current view looks like a replacement for mail or chat,” he said. “But that’s just scratching the surface.”

Fiset said his enthusiasm for Wave comes from the backend technology.

“When I started looking at the underlying technology, I recognized, this is going to go somewhere,” he said.

“The technology in Wave is going revolutionize B2B.”

Like most Google products, Wave is run from Google’s own servers, which can be of concern to businesses that would rather not trust their data to a third-party.

For those situations, there’s Google Wave Federation, which allows anyone to set their own private Wave server independent from Google.

“Two people from the same company can be talking to each other and no one outside can talk to it,” said Blindside Networks software engineer Denis Zgonjnin.

Federation Servers are also more of a future possibility for Wave as the main interface is use the application is still only on Google’s web site.

Zgonjnin noted that for usage to take off, developers will need to create their own Wave clients.

For a very young platform, Wave has gained a lot of enthusiasm from both early tech adopters and developers.

The first Ottawa WaveCamp came together after only two months of The Ottawa Wave Group’s founding and Cook says he hopes to organize and even larger event in the spring with official Google sponsorship.