Social Networking: The Next Generation

Google Wave is what e-mail would look like if it was invented today. Photo Credit: widgetslab.com

By Steven Natiello
Staff Writer

“What would e-mail be like if it was invented today?”

That’s what Lars Rasmussen, Google employee and one of the designers of Google Maps, asked his audience when he introduced Google Wave to select viewers at Google I/O 2009, an annual conference hosted by Google.

The answer to his question was simple: Google Wave.

From Facebook to Twitter, we’ve seen a plethora of social networking websites over the past few years. Each has its own twist, but for the most part has offered a little more than the competition that came before it. Wave is Google’s solution to the monotony.

According to the “About Wave” section on Google’s Wave Preview site, Wave is “an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration.” Essentially, Wave promises to offer a method by which users can interact with each other using text, photos, videos, maps, games, and countless other features. Every feature will have the potential for real time interaction.

Ambition seems to be the key word to describe Google Wave. Developers plan to release the program as an open-source program, which means that developers and users around the world will have access to the source code to create their own extensions and gadgets. User will also have the ability to embed Wave features into their own web documents, thus enabling even more versatility.

Since Google Wave was announced early in the development stage, it’s difficult to decide when (or if) it will officially be released publicly. Right now, there is a limited preview that users can request an invitation to join. Google employees will review requests and decide who may join the program. Approved accounts will then be unlocked for use with Google Wave.

Google also plans to use Wave to revolutionize the way e-mails are constructed and sent. In the video for the Google I/O 2009 conference, which can be found in the Google Wave preview site, wave.google.com, Lars Rasmussen told the audience Wave will send e-mails using a hosted forum-style message system, rather than the typical snail-mail type system that’s in use by most e-mail clients now.

The main benefit of this change is that, in addition to having more freedom with conversations, users will be able to respond directly to certain portions of long e-mails and embed videos, pictures, or other files midway through replies.

Incorporated with the change in e-mail is the ability to instant message via the same medium that users can send e-mail with. This enables users to chat or e-mail as desired, a feature that Google hopes will make communication more user-friendly.

Conversations in Wave will also be more group-friendly. New features will enable users to add new participants to conversations in such a way that they will have access to everything that was said previously, without the loopholes that current e-mail systems have.

Users don’t have a need to worry about privacy, however, because they will still have the ability to send private messages that other participants in a conversation cannot access.

Google Wave will also feature functions specifically designed to make collaborative efforts more convenient. Group projects, event organization, photo sharing, meeting notes, and brainstorming sessions are all activities that Wave is being designed to work with.

Google plans to make Wave to be so versatile that Chris Esparza of news site Examiner.com described the new program as “what you would get if you stuck email, instant messaging, Wikipedia, blogs, and file sharing in a blender and put it on high.”

Despite all the features that Google promises, Wave is still a work in progress, so there are users who have experienced problems. To remedy this, Google has an online community and a bug-reporting system through which users can inform Google of the problems and receive assistance from either members of Google’s tech support staff or other users adept at troubleshooting.

There are also programmer guides and developer guides to assist users in the creation and use of Wave extensions and gadgets.

Lars Rasmussen, one of the point creators of Google Wave, is also the creator of the free program, Google Maps, which eventually became extremely popular among users. With all of the buzz surrounding Google Wave, plus the past performance and popularity of Rasmussen’s other developments, it looks like this will be another successful development that will make a “splash” in the social media world.