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Wave Ripples through Google I/O

by Ray Valdes  |  May 28, 2009  |  9 Comments

At the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Google just finished a demo of Wave, an early preview of a product that they hope will change how people collaborate on the Web.

Lots of people, including my colleagues at Gartner, likely will have an opinion on Google Wave, because of its breadth. As the saying goes, it is both a floor wax and a dessert topping. Google says “a wave is equal parts conversation and document”, but that is too terse. Wave’s functionality is surprisingly broad, and spans email, instant messaging, discussion forums, wiki, web publishing — and even eforms and a platform for social gaming. If you are not familiar with Wave, Tim O’Reilly has published a good overview.

My main takeaway is that Wave is innovative and has great potential, but obviously in the earliest stages of its life cycle (pre-Beta). Therefore it is premature to talk about things like whether it will kill Lotus Notes or Exchange. Enterprises have accumulated archeological layers of software infrastructure through years of investment, and that technology is solidified by deep-rooted behavior patterns. Applications have worn deep grooves into the craniums of many users, and it will be hard to shift them off those familiar tracks.

In no particular order, here are some factual tidbits and spare-change observations coming out of today’s session:

  • A key aspect of Wave is the distributed nature of processing, a highly federated model that likely requires fiendishly clever algorithms for multi-way concurrent interaction, synchronization, and conflict resolution. Other systems such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Groovy view these distributed computing algorithms as a key part of the system value, and it appears that Google goes further than these approaches, at a finer-grain and with an extensibility mechanism. The message from Google is that Wave is equal parts product, platform and protocol.
  • Even though open-source is a key part of Google’s strategy, the current server-side implementation relies on BigTable, which would makes proliferation in enterprises a challenge. It is possible that Google might come up with a reference implementation on a LAMP stack, but that is something that is further in the future.
  • Wave validates Google Web Toolkit as a choice for developers considering Ajax toolkits. GWT is one of many offerings in a crowded space that includes jQuery, Dojo, Prototype, Yahoo UI. GWT was conspicuous in that no major Google properties (Maps, Mail) used it even though Google was the company that put Ajax on the map. GMail and Maps were built out of hand-coded. Even though Wave originated with the same technical team that built maps, they chose GWT for the Wave project back in 2007, which could have been considered a risky bet at the time.
  • Wave has the benefit of learning from experience with email and spam, and incorporates mechnaisms that would enable strong identity and authentication compared to what is in SMTP.
  • Wave sets a new target for browser deployments, in that presents an incentive for users to upgrade to an HTM5-capable browser, for a user experience that includes real-time interaction on a keystroke-by-keystroke baseis.
  • There are various extensibility mechanisms and avenues for third-party developers to add value, such as robots (server-side modules that function as virtual participants in converations) and gadgets (client-side views). These have a reasonable possibility of gaining traction among developers, similar to the many uses of Google Maps.


Ray Valdes
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
30 years IT industry

Ray Valdes is research director in Gartner Research, where he is part of the Internet Platforms and Web Services team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Wave Ripples through Google I/O

  1. clibou says:

    “Enterprises deeply-rooted behavior patterns”

    *Young folks graduating now are the first to grow up with the web. They expect real-time, IM, Facebook.
    *Corp IT has poor business alignment, often blocking projects to maintain control. Salesforce CRM, adding iPhone support.
    *The cost of commuting, energy, time, parking, triggers telecommuting (business meetings @ Starbucks)
    *Vacant commercial real estate
    *Mobile working

    These changes build up pressures to change deeply-rooted behaviors. Enterprises may look for IT solutions to keep employees happy once the market for employees recovers.

    In 5 years time….

  2. Whit Andrews says:

    I’m not clear on this being absolute, Ray, but after looking at Tim O’s piece, I would say the most important thing is the protocol. Is this a simple system that will give birth to a complex structure, per Gall’s Law? Because if it doesn’t, then the only Wave system will be Google’s and one that some guy cooks up in Finland, and that won’t succeed, full stop.

    Also, it is soon enough to say that this won’t kill email. It won’t kill email. See how easy that was? There are lots of reasons for that, not the least of which is that email is like regular mail — postal mail — except that it’s electronic. That makes it handy for lots of formal things. Try taking a wave to a court any time in the next 10 years. “Look, your honor — the defendant implied the derivative was safe right here, next to the fractally decomposed picture of his dog.”

    Also won’t kill mainframes. OK, sorry. Done that rant.

    Can’t wait to hear more.

  3. Ray Valdes says:

    Whit, as you know, the definition of what is simple is highly relative.

    Certainly there is a scenario where this system evolves to orders of magnitude more complex than in its current state, just like the first SMTP server evolved to the complex global network of email that we have today.

    I agree the protocol is important, but, I agree with Google that of equal importance are the platform and product aspects. The analogy is to Google Maps, which was a great product, but also became pervasive in part because it was a platform for third-party developers to extend and adapt to a range of scenarios.

    Lastly, a key factor behind Wave’s future adoption is that Google is open-sourcing large parts of the system. If this were not the case, I agree with you about the guy in Finland. The license is liberal enough that, in theory, you can download the source from Google and rebrand it and start a competitive service.

  4. Whit Andrews says:

    That’s what it needs; there’s no question. Without that step, it would be meaningless.

    I will also say this: Google is institutionally patient. That’s very, very important here. I think its extreme patience has harmed it in some areas, such as Gmail, where had it gotten out of beta faster and heeded what we were saying about the need for rock-solid resiliency, it would have blocked Microsoft far faster and eliminated that competition early. There’s no competition for Wave right now, and so open sourcing it immediately eliminates and co-opts all competition. What goofball would announce tomorrow that he had thought of a super new replacement for email? Nine, because anyone who’s working on that now is busy fingering through sheaves of open source Wave code and figuring how to do it and leverage Google’s work and heft.

    I’m well-known for disagreeing. I agree with this. I think it’s a cunning and effective strategy for Google to have adopted. I cannot, cannot wait to hear more from the likes of you, who can tell me if it does what it says. To the Slashdots!

  5. Ray Valdes says:

    Clive, thanks for your comment (and for being the first in the thread). I think you correctly identify some drivers that will change deeply-rooted behaviors. This works better on an individual, bottom-up level. It is harder to change institutional behaviors that have been baked into the culture of a company. It does happen, but what is perhaps more common is that a change-resistant organization gets out-competed in the market by newly formed ventures that have no old habits to lose, only new ones to gain.

  6. […] ← Wave Ripples through Google I/O […]

  7. […] บทวิเคราะห์จาก Gartner มีประเด็นที่น่าสนใจ โดยเฉพาะประเด็นที่ว่าโครงการนี้จะเป็น Open Source ได้แรงสักแค่ไหน เพราะงานต่างๆที่เกิดขึ้น จะอยู่ที่ server หนักมาก และใช้ Google Web Toolkit (GWT) อย่างได้ผล จากวิดีโอ เห็นได้ชัดว่าคนหลายๆคน สามารถแก้เอกสารได้พร้อมๆกัน โดยผลการแก้ไข จะปรากฏขึ้นบนจอภาพของทุกๆคน ยิ่งไปกว่านั้น แต่ละคนสามารถ playback เพื่อดูย้อนหลัง/เดินหน้าไปในอดีต ทุกตัวอักษรที่มีการแก้ไข […]

  8. clibou says:

    Thanks Ray, Steve Gilmor published a seminal work:

    Google and Microsoft are now at roughly the same place in integrating realtime into the respective architectures.

    Steve makes some good points, I think we may have a race between the two vendors who really matter in core IT platform technology. The outcome to shape IT spending for years to come. (Innovation in the Enterprise seems long overdue).

  9. Jamie Leutze says:

    3 inaccuraices.
    Microsoft Groovy is Groove
    MSFT put AJAX on the map, even you cite this in prior research notes over 3 years ago.
    @whit Google is not a patient company. They havea see waht sticks approach and have killed many products quickly. Do they learn quickly or do they simple have to constantly cull their stable of products. But a company that is 10 years old with 99% revenue on one product can hardly be classified as patient.

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