Google Wave 101

Google Wave has received a lot of hype lately, especially since it launched last week and 100,000 lucky people were given an invitation to start using it.

The big question for most of us: Exactly what is Google Wave? Some call it the second generation of e-mail. Others describe it as Wikipedia with social networking.

Simply, Google Wave is a real-time platform that combines instant messaging, e-mail, document creation, and collaboration.

What is Google Wave?

Google’s new communication platform attempts to bring together your favorite online communication options. It combines the features of instant messaging, e-mail programs like Outlook, the viral aspects of social media, Twitter, maps, and document sharing into one program.

According to this video, it’s an e-mail platform if e-mail were designed today rather than 40 years ago. To see what Google has to say about its new tool, see its announcement video.

Ride the Wave?

Most people are comfortable with e-mail and may decide not to “ride the wave.” If you only use e-mail to send and receive simple messages, then Google Wave isn’t for you. However, if you regularly send e-mails to (and receive e-mails from) a group of people and expect updates and responses to attachments, then you should take a look.

Google Wave addresses some important issues. For example, as you send e-mails back and forth within a group or team setting, you invariably get multiple copies and versions of documents. Some people respond, others don’t (or maybe they do, but it gets lost in spam filters). Over time, it can be challenging to keep track of it all.

Google Wave lets you essentially host a conversation — or “wave” — and track everything in real time. You might likely start your wave or conversation by selecting participants. Then, you can see their responses in real time in your wave window.

Any of the participants will be able to upload documents, pictures, video, etc., at any time. As any participant views the wave, they can check in and see new comments and responses in real time. This solves group and team collaboration problems.

The Future of Google Wave

As with the launch of any new tool, the out-of-the-box experience might seem lacking in features. Google has decided to make a set of APIs available to developers that will give them the ability to enhance Google Wave by building extensions for the core product. They will also be able to embed features on other sites to make them more collaborative.

A Twitter extension is already available. As more developers create extensions the possibilities could be endless.

Google seems interested in ensuring this product is open source. Google will give developers access to the open-source protocols at the core of Wave.

Inside Look

Google Wave is divided into three columns. The first column has two sections, the first with labels similar to Gmail, and the other is your contacts list. The second or middle column lists all the waves (or conversations), somewhat like your inbox with e-mail. The third column displays the wave itself.

As you would expect, it looks and feels similar to other Google programs. To get an inside look at the tool, check out this post from Lifehacker, complete with pictures and commentary.

Please post your thoughts below about the new Google Wave. If you’re one of the few who have a developer preview, tell us what you think!

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