I went in with low expectations (which may have influenced my resulting opinions) but the flaky and slow Google Wave developer preview exhibits clear and unarguable signs of awesomeness to come - so much so that I'm already annoyed that I have to go back to regular boring-old email after using Wave for only a few hours.
Google Wave is a new communication product developed by the same folks who bought us Google Maps. The keynote demonstration (which introduced the world to Wave) looked intriguing, but not outright brilliant... so it was with tepid interest that I shuffled along with a hundred or so other developers to the Wave day in the new Google building in Sydney.
I looked up how to get to Google on Google Maps - which showed the building location as a large hole in the ground. I wondered what mystical magical wonderland they might have constructed upon that hole... Unfortunately the building turned out to be another horrible glass monstrosity, containing hundreds of soul-destroying open-plan call-centre style rooms. A few token beanbags are never going to cover the ingrained monotonous stench of corporate offices. But hey, the free wi-fi is damn fast.
The Google chaps gave us a run through of Wave: it's basically a cross between email and IM. Basically. If everyone is offline, then it's like email. If everyone is online then it's like IM. If some people are online, and others offline... then it's like, um, Google Wave.
When you first start up a new "wave" then you type in a message (they call them "blips"). Once you're done it pops up a dialog to let you to choose your recipients, or really "invite some participants"... a wave is like a living email - that you keep editing and replying to. Everybody invited can edit, or even delete ANY blip on the list, drag-and-drop photos, images and maps, style content (very basically) - all of which lets you collaboratively edit a response into a final document. This is awesome if you've ever been in an email avalanche for say, choosing which pub you'll all be going to next week.
From watching the keynote, I didn't think that this would work in practice: I imagined having different parts of your screen in a constant state of change would be distracting and hard to follow. But seeing this in action showed that, yep, it's going to work a treat. There were 30-odd people all using a single wave as a back-channel at the WaveDaySyd event... the client screen indeed was lighting up like a christmas tree - but being able to see posts being added and modified keystroke-by-keystroke (not just after another user hits "done") meant you could quickly focus on the parts that are important to you. And it's fun.
The coolest thing about waves - the thing that takes this from snazzy idea, to potential forever-changer - is embedding. You can take any wave, from any branch of the wave - and embed that somewhere else: like in a blog, or even in another wave. For example, I've put a wave on the home page of this blog. Anyone (with a wave account) will see the wave and can edit it as normal: adding replies, pictures... whatever. The wave then ALSO appears in their (and my) wave client. At the same time. In real-time. It's Like IM on my blog and in the client and WHEREVER!!! This means that all your out-in-the-internet communications on forums and blogs and youtube comments and digg comments and emails and instant messages and whatever could potentially be accessed from your single client, in real-time. Go team!
In the end
Holy bjesus, I reckon it's going to be big. Bigger than email. Though not for a while: It's the most buggy, flaky, unreliable, crashy software I've used in a lonnnng time. And I've used Microsoft Word. But the fact that it can suck so hard, yet already seem essential and obvious is a pretty good sign for Wave. Now to get on with the real task at hand... making money from it - send me any ideas as a boring-old blog comment, or antiquated email.