The Real Meaning Of Google Wave

Google Wave, the Internet giant's new online collaboration tool, is making, well, lots of waves. Google Wave lets users work on the same content object, dubbed a "wave," which can house both text and multimedia. Users can reply to messages and edit together in real-time.

The question asked to Tom Mornini :

Media : You've said that the long-term impact of Google Wave is probably underestimated. Why?

Tom Mornini: The problem is that people think of Google Wave in terms of the demo video, which does a great job of showing how Wave could achieve the next step beyond current tools for e-mail, which is used in some ineffective ways. The concept of e-mailing around attachments just makes me want to throw up, because it is inefficient and so error prone. It leads to multiple versions with no way to know the message-by-message evolution of the thinking that led to the current draft. The demo showed a better way based on Wave, but most people stop there and think Wave is that application. It's not. Wave is a new way to build distributed applications, and it will open the door to an explosion of innovation.

Media : What did you like about the demo?

Tom Mornini: What the Wave demo showed is support for a continuum from the shortest messages to longer and longer forms of content. All of it can be shared with precise control, tagged, searched. The version history is kept. No more mailing around a document. This takes the beauty of e-mail and wikis and extends it in a more flexible way to a much larger audience.

It is all based on components called Wavelets that are documents that exist in a single version, which is kept current on distributed servers. So if I add a comment or the first entry in an e-mail-like communication, my server has a copy and so does everybody else's server. And then anybody who changes or updates those Wavelets specifically creates new versions of them, and all of the old history is maintained. And that's where they show that very impressive playback capability where you can see the very first message once you're added into a communication and see how the conversation progressed.

Media : Why is the playback facility so important?

Tom Mornini: As a CTO of a growing company, when certain e-mails finally bubble up to my level, it is not uncommon for 20 people to have been involved. Then I have to start at the bottom and read up to make sure you know all the history--that is how the issue started and was analyzed. If the e-mail was a Wavelet, I could playback that conversation from the beginning and see how the analysis developed and who said what.

Media : So, if Wave is not just the demo application, what is it?

Tom Mornini: Google Wave is a platform for creating distributed applications. Each Wave server can be involved in a number of conversations involving Wavelets, what most people would think of as a document. Wavelets are actually a much more powerful and general because they are based on XML, which means you can have lots of depth of content, like headings and subheadings of a book, but on steroids. Adding a document repository to XMPP is just revolutionary.

The XMPP protocol manages the communication between the Wave servers so that all the Wavelets can synchronize as they are changed. Then Google finished the job by making Wavelets tag-able, searchable and versioned, so you can play back changes.

But Google Wave goes beyond just managing the content--it also manages the programs that act on the content. At any level, a program can be assigned to a Wavelet to render it, that is, show it to a user and help manage the conversation. Google Wave also manages the distribution and management of these programs. The idea of a platform that combines management of the data and the code is really powerful.

Media : What's an example of new things that will be possible?

Tom Mornini: Any Wavelet can be assigned to services that act upon it. In the video they show, they can add a spell checker as a service that gets every update to the document so it knows when to re-check it. So people can build additional functionality and sell it in a secured fashion by only accepting Wavelets from clients. This solves a huge problem in the world of how to incorporate third-party services in an application.

The hierarchical security also allows many interesting things to happen safely. Let's say we're on a worldwide mailing list of a million people on this Wave, and you and I want to have a little side conversation. At any point in the tree you can set that only Dan and Tom have access to this document, or this sub-hierarchy. And in doing so, by definition, the rest of that tree is only replicated between those people's Wave servers so that we can have an entirely private conversation within the context of a Wave that we can both share, but you and I are the only people who ever have any chance of knowing that it happened.

The world will be shocked at how many applications will be built there.

Media : Is it interesting to you that the concept of presence, that is, the idea of whether someone is online or not was not emphasized in the demo?

Tom Mornini: In any of the Wave stuff that I've looked at, I don't believe presence has been mentioned. It wasn't part of the demo and I didn't see anything in the white papers I read. I don't think they're planning on that being a big part of it, but I could be wrong. But clearly, it seems that you might want to know if someone was available to communicate with. If I knew you were there, it's not difficult for an application to start up a Wave between you and I, and I can just start typing and if you start responding then we're done. If you are not there, then I send it like a traditional e-mail, which doesn't even really require a send. I just create the document and make sure it is available to you.

What is a wave?

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

But the demo video for Google ( GOOG - news - people ) Wave doesn't capture the importance of the tool as a disruptive and innovative development platform. Tom Mornini, chief technology officer and founder of Engine Yard, a company that offers an integrated software stack for Ruby developers, discusses the real meaning of Google Wave. check it down for the video ...

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