3scale was lucky enough to have a sandbox slot at Google I/O in May - and an awesome event it was for us too (check out Martin talking technology here!). Things have been hellishly busy since - but now a lot of the hype died down, there's a chance to comment on the biggest announcement at the event: the launch of Google Wave (see the wave keynote here - watch if all if you haven't already).
There's been loads of Wave coverage - most of it just after announcement (Mashable, Techcrunch, ...) and Dion Hinchliffe already has some trademark great diagrams available. There are plenty of posts which commented on the boldness of the vision and a lot of others which focused on the technical breakthroughs.
While I think the technology is a true achievement, more than anything I'm still staggered by the strategic move which is being played out here. The Wave team has clearly done an awesome job - both in engineering but also in "re-imagining" the web (see the blog post which announces wave) - credit to Google's management as well for giving vent to this imagination. The keynote and the blog post very much present Wave as a kind of skunk works effort - which no doubt it is - but I'm pretty sure there is a very hard nosed, long term strategy backed in here.
Success for Wave would mean nothing less than rewriting the nuts and bolts of the Web as we know it - rewriting all the rules about how content is created, exchanged and managed. The demo is really a peek at the future which will inevitably come - and Google is making a strong play to be the organisation which tkes a defining role in that future. Why say that?:
- Wave would do away with the need for IMAP, SMTP, FTP and a whole bunch of other protocols.
- The cool demos which show a nice interplay between an online blog and a Wave users "inbox" are a key indicator of what's already happening - content anytime, anyplace - separated from design (and possibly context) - how often will you visit your favorite blog's homepage once it flows into your inbox? comments included? Ads not included?
- The content objects exchange will no doubt morph to include all sorts of generic structures - making spreadsheets, docs and other formats fodder for your communications inbox - again power to Google and Google docs (where is Office live?)
- Wave providers could potentially become massive repositories of structured data and communications information (is this is the ultimate cloud?) - all of it indexable - and Google being the biggest of all.
- The play for wider adoption of the protocol could tempt large swathes of the largest content generators to get on board - watch Blogger "go Wave" at some point in the not too distant future - Will Sixapart and co have to follow?
- Google's push for HTML5, Android and Chrome all seem to gel perfectly - a new world of content with flexible browsers (with no more need for Flash?) and other apps to seemlessly consume this content.
Effectively Wave could do for Content and Communication what openID, openAuth etc. are doing for identity - it's that big.
Google's play to make the protocol and server open is also incredibly smart and beneficial to the web as a whole. There's no doubt that some of Google's competitors will see this as the ultimate poison chalice but it creates some very positive dynamics:
- If we (the people) could reinvent the way the web works - how would we do it? As a debae starter Google Wave is great.
- A powerful trend towards unification of content interchange standards (how long has it taken for IM networks to interoperate?)
The open strategy, if genuinely persued, also benefits Google hugely since it will be hard for others to fight it - even proposing another standard is joining the conversation. My guess is that the low key "it's a skunk works project" launch was very deliberate to get the ball rolling, build critical mass while Google's competitors most likely do nothing and then suddenly find themseleves facing a groundswell of developers adopting wave. Announcing an initiative which spanned the major players at this stage would likely simply have been impossible and killed the protocol stone dead (actually trying to coordinate such an annoucement would have killed it).
We've had plenty of fun in the team trying to work out who should fear Google Wave most amongst Google's competitors and who it's aimed at - Microsoft, Yahoo, Adobe and Facebook etc. Facebook created a lot of debate - consensus opinion was that Wave is a direct attack on Facebook's rise - my take is a little different: Facebook is showing an uncanny knack of holding a growing its user base - this is unlikely to change. At some point in the future if Wave really did made inroads it could simply become a Wave provider and its users would have even less reason to leave their facebook pages - all their content would be held by facebook yet, they'd be able to participate in any conversation. Potentially this even suits Google since it needs competition to avoid being seen as a monopolist.
Still, making wave stick is a major challenge - the opening pitch as a developer project is a perfect opening but there is a long road to travel. If Google doesn't waver however, they are perhaps the only company that can pull it off. The move creates so many unkowns (even for Google's own revenue engine - Adwords - what happens to Ad revenue if all content can be consumed in the inbox?) but if this is really a major strategy pilar they'll likely push through on it. If it eventually comes off, we'll probably see all the following stages:
- Disbelief that it will work and technical objections (lots of interesting debate already).
- Denial (see Steve Balmer do this for the iPhone and Android - Ray Ozzie already did it for Wave).
- Grudging acceptance (but "it's just the small guys ...").
- Capitulation (Looks like we'll have to adopt this).
- Leverage (people working out smart things to do with it).
It's still a hard thing to pull off and plenty of things could go wrong - but Wave is the boldest vision of a new Web which we've seen in a long time, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. The smartest companies might be the ones that work out how to leverage before going through some of the other steps (denial, acceptance, capitulation, ...).
The bottom line is that I think we saw a vision of the future Internet on the 28th May which you don't often see. It's one of those moments in which you see the world shift briefly before settling back to its orginal perspective - the comfort zone is to think "nothing happened here, move along..." - the opportunity zone is to hold the moment and figure out what can be done in this new world!
No doubt things wont work out quite as planned - but what's clear is that should Wave get traction, there'll be a huge range of things which get turned inside-out. Congrats to Google for taking the bold steps and throwing down the challenge to everybody to move the Web forward!