Google Wave: What Will It Mean to SharePoint?

Google has announced a new open source development platform called Google Wave, which will be available next year.  Wave is brought to you be the geniuses who originally developed Google Maps, Lars and Jens Rasmussen.  If you watch the Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009, one of the questions which ought to come into your mind is “What will Google Wave mean to SharePoint?”  After all, Google describes Google Wave as “a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web” and if that isn’t what SharePoint is, I’m missing something.

We have to take everything that Google touches as being potentially disruptive to the marketplace, and I mean that in the game-changing, good way.   From my seat, it looks like Google Wave will be a direct competitor to the walled gardens like FaceBook, MySpace, and all of the smaller players.  But can we take it seriously for enterprise use?

“What might email look like it it was invented today?”

At first glance, Wave is simply a new way to think about email.  When I reply to a wave (waves are like threads, but they have a tree structure, which enables many cooler things – read on), I can reply anywhere within the original wave, but more like I might insert comments in a Wiki or bulletin board.

But wait!  You can instant message in the context of the wave as well.  (Shiny!  Love the Firefly reference.)  And you can do it in real time.  And you can add new users in real time (no round robin email games).  And you can playback the wave in the sequence it was changed (in case you’ve joined the wave late).  And, and, and…  There’s so much nice stuff just at this level that you might want to run out and get one of these dang Wave thingies.

“We care just as much about the product of the wave as we care about the wave itself.”

The “product” of the wave can be trimmed out and used as the basis for a new wave.  In the preview the example they use is a set of photos from a boat trip turning into a photo album to share with the office.  (But what if it was a set of documents?)  These products can be embedded with full functionality in other platforms like blogs, discussion forums, rich media sites, etc.

“There is only one copy of the wave out there.”

This means that edits show up everywhere the wave is exposed, in real time if you want.  No more multiple copies of things, some of which are outdated and others which are just plain wrong.  Real time editing happens on everyone’s screen as you type (unless you don’t want everyone to see your hunting and pecking – your choice).

What should we be worried about?

So, as SharePoint jocks, what should worry us about all of this?  Here’s my list:

  • The UI – If real estate is all about location, with applications it’s all about the UI.  Wave is Web 2.0 at its best, IMHO.  Users don’t care what your server topology is or how you are integrated with AD or what the network protocols are: they will think it is very cool to see neat pictures and to be able to drag and drop everything.  Users are already used to this type of cool stuff with FaceBook and hundreds of other Web-based apps out there.  SharePoint continues to lag unless you do a *lot* of work.
  • Playback – The ability to easily understand how a particular chunk of content has gotten into its current state interactively (rather than fishing around in email threads, change tracking, versions, etc.) is huge.  One of the problems with SharePoint is understanding what’s happened from version to version, more so when versioning isn’t turned on.  Playback lets you look at content temporally rather than transactionally.
  • Live Concurrent Editing – We can work on waves together in real time from anywhere, including mobile devices.  It might seem like this is just aspect of the UI, but to me its even more important.  No matter where we are, we can see each other typing in real time.  It’s like we’re in the same room looking at the same piece of paper on the table in front of us with two pens.
  • “Robots” – Robots are additional user-like processes which can participate in waves.  So, for instance. there’s a cool little robot called Search-y (all the robotss are –ys: Spell-y, Link-y, etc.) that lets you do a search from within a wave and drop the results in with only a click.  Same with spelling: Spell-y watches as you type and either fixes mistakes automagically (if it’s a high confidence change) or shows you where your error is with a red underline a la Word (low confidence).
  • Real Time Translation — Yes, that’s right — with the Rosy robot, Wave translates for you as you type, even changing the translation as you change your syntax on the fly!

Clear differences

  • Web versus Enterprise – As with many Google apps, the clear focus is on the wild old Web.  But also as with most Google apps, you’ll most likely be able to bring it in-house.  It’s still not clear what topology Wave will require and what the startup costs would be.  Microsoft still wins on the ubiquitous scale.
  • Document Production – Since Google isn’t Microsoft, documents aren’t Office-based.  This is certainly going to seem good to many people, but Office isn’t going away anytime soon in large organizations.

I’m going to keep an eye on Google Wave.  It’s early in its evolution, but I see some stiff competition for SharePoint in the making.

Thanks to Joel Olsen’s tweet on this, which got my attention in the first place.