Google Wave: Important for Messaging

Google Wave, recently announced by Google and available later this year, is important for messaging. The launch presentation is worth viewing by anyone interested in messaging.

Google Wave has an abstraction that seeks to replace both email and IM, and perhaps shared document editing too. Google argues that email was designed a long while ago, and that with modern technologies we can do much better. A converse argument is that email is a natural and basic electronic communication that evolved without design (much as soccer evolved without the need for formal rules or design). Things that really impress me about Google Wave are:

  • The amount that can be done in the browser, in a way that is clearly browser independent. This is a long, long way from static HTML.
  • The way that messages are shared as you type. (Scary, but really neat technology.)
  • The use of XMPP (Internet Standard eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) for federation. The need for getting XMPP (as well as HTTP) into the browser seems an increasing priority.

This is a technology to watch.

Desirability of a Multi-Vector UI

I watched my son using his iPhone the other day to exchange SMS with his girlfriend. The UI was modeled on iChat (Apple's IM client), and it seemed a natural way to use SMS. My Nokia phone has an integrated messaging interface, and gives a uniform UI for SMS and email. I can see my SMSs with a listing pretty much like my email. The key observation is that UI can be remarkably independent of the underlying technology.

Under the hood, Wave is essentially "bboards on steroids." It is a shared data structure to which multiple users can contribute. Having this will add to the list of things that I need to interact with.

What I would like is a single UI that deals with all of the underlying abstractions (email, IM, SMS, Wave) -- a communicator that can present information in an appropriate manner and use whichever channel is appropriate. It would be good to decouple the UI from the transport more strongly.

Email Won't Go Away

I often end up in interminable email discussions with multiple nested quotes of previous messages. Engineers seem particularly fond of this style. Google Wave seems to offer a much superior interface for this type of dialogue.

However, it does not seem a replacement for all email. Email can often be a highly transactional mechanism. When dealing with emails to external organizations and individuals, there will often be shared internal review of the message and a carefully worded response before it is sent. The sharing and dynamic nature of Wave does not seem appropriate for the external communication. Email as it stands seems to have uses for which it will not get replaced. It seems to remain a basic and essential communications building block.

Google Wave Won't Be the New Desktop Client

For those with almost permanent access to fast networks, shifting to a Web-based communications option seems quite plausible. For those who travel on trains and planes, carrying your email world on your laptop remains highly desirable. The ability to use Google Gears to replace this seems pretty much a fantasy for now.

It also feels right to me that having an optimized tool (both in UI and protocol terms) for tasks that are done a lot (and I do email a LOT) seems sensible. If you have special communications protocols such as IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) and XMPP, why try to layer things over HTTP?

The lack of competition in desktop email clients is a problem. I use Outlook, which I think is the best option available, but it could do so much better. The lack of serious competition to Outlook is a real problem (and yes, I know about Thunderbird). Competition in the browser market has really improved things for everyone. We need a good desktop client. It is crazy that there is not a client that does efficient IMAP and XMPP with an integrated UI.

Google Wave does not provide an answer to this, but it certainly challenges all who are concerned with communications UI.

... Steve Kille

One Comment

  1. Posted July 7, 2009 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

    Interesting call-out to Thunderbird as competition for Outlook but no mention of others, e.g. Lotus Notes 8.5, used by many tens of millions around the world. It’s not really an IMAP client today, the use case is focused on corporates with Lotus Domino, but in adopting to a collaborative desktop model, it likewise challenges communications UI and has evolved significantly in the last three years. I wouldn’t have bothered to mention but for your callout of “lack of serious competition to Outlook”.

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