Lars and Jens Rasmussen, brothers whose mapping company was bought by Google in 2004 and formed the basis for Google Maps, have become key figures in the development of Google Wave, a real-time collaboration tool and open-source protocol that people can use in their browsers and embed in their websites without cost.
Google Wave will not be controlled by Google but rather, according to CNet, "federated": anyone can set up a Wave server. And, because it is open source, anyone can add to the project to tailor it more to their own needs or the needs of specialised groups.
From the 80-minute video of the first public demonstration of Google Wave, held this past Thursday at the Google I/O Conference in San Francisco, we learn that a Wave is a "shared object" that combines elements of email, instant messaging, and other, newer web technologies to create a "hosted conversation". Although Wave looks new in many ways, and the combination of these elements is innovative and exciting, it will not seem alien to most of us.
It can work like a supercharged email and instant messaging system. For instance, your conversation partners (those who are part of the Wave you are "surfing" at the moment) automatically see your words appear on their browsers as you type (though this can be turned off to function more like traditional instant messaging if you want).
Image courtesy of CNet
Adding someone to the Wave gives them access to all that has taken place on that Wave beforehand (this is an improvement over email/IM conversations). Private conversations are of course possible as well, within a given Wave.
Given the real-time nature of Waves, it will be interesting to see how they would play out in actual use. One can imagine a Wave with ten or more people all communicating at once in real-time--a dizzying prospect!
People will be able to drag and drop photos directly into a Wave. Other participants in the Wave will see thumbnails before the photos are fully downloaded. As this ability is currently not part of HTML 5, Google will be submitting it in hopes that it will become part of the specification (and so not require a plug-in).
Text and images from one Wave can be copied over into a new one, say, if you want to carry on only parts of a conversation with a different group of participants.
Embedding Waves in websites should be as easy as embedding Google Maps is now, as the API will work similarly. For instance, putting a Wave in your blog will open it up to your site's visitors.
Google are hoping that developers will flock to Wave, giving it the new features it will need to grow to meet the needs of consumers and business users alike.