Google this week took developers off guard by revealing Google Wave, a real-time shared communications stream that can include text, photos, videos and maps to which all participants have access.
The company took the wraps of Wave at its second annual Google I/O conference held in San Francisco this week. During his keynote, Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering, described Wave as "a personal communication and collaboration tool."
According to the company, Wave is "equal parts conversation and document." A Wave Web page could include Twitter updates, Facebook messages, IMs, e-mail and a range of input from basic collaboration tools.
Forrester senior analyst Jeffrey Hammond described Wave as an early example of a "Web interaction platform" that brings together multiple communication channels, making it possible for conversations to move from one channel to another without friction. It's similar in concept, he said, to unified communications in the telecom world.
One promise for end users of this new platform is the simplification of an increasingly burdensome cluster of networking and communication applications. Hammond pointed out this simplification is already taking place. One example is TweetDeck, currently in public beta, which pulls feeds from both Twitter and Facebook to a desktop dashboard.
But Wave is also intended to serve as a development platform with a set of open APIs for developers who want to embed Waves into other Web services, and to build extensions that work inside the Waves themselves. Google released the Wave APIs at the conference.
For developers, Wave represents a new opportunity to compete in what Forrester analyst Neil Strother called in a recently published report an "app frenzy" that was sparked by the advent of Apple's iPhone App Store. To get developers working on those apps, Google provided all conference attendees with Wave accounts on a sandboxed build of the system.
Getting even more developers into the act, Google is open sourcing its Wave code. "We need developers to help us complete this product," Gundotra said.
Wave Co-Creator Lars Rasmussen, who developed the product with his brother, Jens, took the stage to demo his brainchild. The audience was the first group outside Google to see it, he said.
Rasmussen allowed that such an early showing of a product was unusual. (Google says it will be released later this year, but provided no likely release date.) And he said that the current version's functionality is somewhat limited. "We're hoping that we can persuade you guys to start building cool things with those APIs while we're getting the product ready to launch."
In a press conference following the keynote, Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin said that the Rasmussen brothers had been allowed to create "one of the most autonomous independent groups we've ever had at Google." В
"Google finally is starting to understand that if you win developers, you win the war when it comes to application platforms," Hammond said. "Microsoft has always understood this, which is why they are maniacal when it comes to catering to developers with tools and perks. If you have to bribe developers, you do it, because they have more influence than ever when it comes to software acquisition -- especially with relation to all the open source we see being used these days." В
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