All of the articles on this (e.g. at TechCrunch and O’Reilly) seem to have giant, static screenshots that don’t convey the essence of Google Wave. This is something you have to see in action to appreciate. Not everyone will want to watch the 80 minute demo, but keep it in mind for a rainy day.

The nut of the idea is that Wave represents a kind of maturity of digital communications– whereas what came on the web before it was mere digitization of analog formats. Here are some of the questions they set out to answer (taken straight from their Google Blog post):

  • Why do we have to live with divides between different types of communication — email versus chat, or conversations versus documents?
  • Could a single communications model span all or most of the systems in use on the web today, in one smooth continuum? How simple could we make it?
  • What if we tried designing a communications system that took advantage of computers’ current abilities, rather than imitating non-electronic forms?

Just as it took decades for the “horseless carriage” to mature into the car — from a convenience to something that effectively paved the way (so to speak) for such cultural paradigms as suburbia and adolescence (think cruising & “parking”) — it has taken decades for “electronic mail” to evolve into something distinct and generative in its own right.

Om Malik responded with a degree of skepticism, suggesting it will take a long time for Wave to replace email. I agree. But I also agree with him enthusiastically when he says

Don’t get me wrong – I want Google Wave to succeed. It is, after all, the product of my dreams.

As I watched the demo I could see a lot of my current wants and frustrations about working and communicating online (“I wish there was ____… wish we had ____… wish I could just ____…”) being knocked-off one by one.

To name a few examples:

I don’t think there’s any question of it succeeding in the long term. I also don’t think there’s any question that 90% of the general public isn’t going to go anywhere near Wave’s full functionality. 

Wave is for people who love making things. Call it “creative ambition” if you want… creative investment.

We’re finally seeing some concrete progress towards the “attitude of Web 3.0” I described in 2007 (in a post that is holding up pretty well, if I may say so):

The mistake back in 2000 was to conceive the web in limited terms of commerce by consumers. By now we’ve learned to think in terms of experience by users. But now that isn’t enough either. To continue growing we need to conceive the web in terms of education by creators.

It may take another whole generation to get us there — an entire cohort to have grown up and gone through school using these tools. 

But even that presumes too much. How do we know that our assumptions about what it means to “grow up and go through school” aren’t going to change radically (again)?

In fact, I’m sure those assumptions will change. It might end up being more accurate to say, “it may take an entire cohort to have grown up and not gone through school — to have learned via creative collaboration instead…”

It’s still too early to find out exactly how this progress will play out, but we do know that it will happen. And just as I’m rejoicing the new tools, I’m elated by hope for a more creative culture.