Google Wave

Google Wave is a self-described “personal communication and collaboration tool” announced by Google at the Google I/O conference on May 27, 2009.[1][2] It is a web-based service, computing platform, and communications protocol designed to merge e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking.[3] It has a strong collaborative and real-time[4] focus supported by extensions that can provide, for example, spelling/grammar checking, automated translation among 40 languages,[2] and numerous other extensions.[4] Initially released only to developers, a “preview release” of Google Wave was extended to 100,000 users in September 2009, each allowed to invite twenty to thirty additional users. On the 29th of November 2009, Google accepted most requests submitted soon after the extended release of the technical preview in September 2009; these users have around 25 invitations to give.

Google Wave is designed as a new Internet communications platform. It is written in Java using OpenJDK and its web interface uses the Google Web Toolkit. Google Wave works like previous messaging systems such as email and Usenet, but instead of sending a message along with its entire thread of previous messages, or requiring all responses to be stored in each user’s inbox for context, message documents (referred to as waves) that contain complete threads of multimedia messages (blips) are perpetually stored on a central server. Waves are shared with collaborators who can be added or removed from the wave at any point during a wave’s existence.

Waves, described by Google as “equal parts conversation and document”, are hosted XML documents that allow seamless and low latency concurrent modifications.[5] Any participant of a wave can reply anywhere within the message, edit any part of the wave, and add participants at any point in the process. Each edit/reply is a blip and users can reply to individual blips within waves. Recipients are notified of changes/replies in all waves in which they are active and, upon opening a wave, may review those changes in chronological order. In addition, waves are live. All replies/edits are visible in real-time, letter by letter, as they are typed by the other collaborators. Multiple participants may edit a single wave simultaneously in Google Wave. Thus, waves can function not only as e-mails and threaded conversations but also as an instant messaging service when many participants are online at the same time. A wave may repeatedly shift roles between e-mail and instant messaging depending on the number of users editing it concurrently. The ability to show messages as they are typed can be disabled, similar to conventional instant messaging.[3]

The ability to modify a wave at any location lets users create collaborative documents, edited in a manner akin to wikis. Waves can easily link to other waves. It is in many respects a more advanced forum.[6] A wave can be read and known to exist by only one person, or by two or more. It can also be public, available for reading and writing to everyone on Wave.

The history of each wave is stored within it. Collaborators may use a playback feature in Google Wave to observe the order in which a wave was edited, blips that were added, and who was responsible for what in the wave.[3][4] The history may also be searched by a user to view and/or modify specific changes, such as specific kinds of changes or messages from a single user.[2]

As of November, 2009, Google Wave is still in active development and is expected to remain in development until later in 2009.[2] It was launched to about 100,000 users on September 30, 2009.[7] Google Wave access can be requested. Developers have been given access to Wave proper, and all wave users invited by Google can nominate up to 20 others.

Open source

Google plans to release most of the source code as open source,[2] allowing the public to develop its features through extensions.[2] Google will also allow third-parties to build their own Wave services as quickly as possible (be it private or commercial) because it wants the Wave protocol to replace the e-mail protocol.[2][8][9] Initially, Google will be the only Wave service provider, but it is hoped that, as the protocol becomes standardized and the prototype server becomes stable, other service providers will launch their own Wave services, possibly designing their own unique web-based clients as is common with many email service providers. The possibility also exists for native Wave clients to be made, as demonstrated by Google with their CLI-based console client.[10]

Google has made an initial open-source release of some components of Wave:[11]

1. the operational transformation (OT) code,
2. the underlying wave model, and
3. a basic client/server prototype that uses the wave protocol

In addition, Google has provided some detail about the next phases of the open-source release:[10]

1. wave model code that is a simplified version of Google’s production code and is tied to the OT code; this code will evolve into the shared code base that Google will use and expects that others will too
2. a testing and verification suite for people who want to do their own implementation (for example, for porting the code to other languages)


During the initial launch of Google Wave, invitations were a hot commodity, even being sold on eBay.[12] However, as more and more users began to use the product, there was a sense of confusion as to how to use it.[13] Google Wave has been called an “overhyped disappointment”[14] with “dismal usability”[15] that “humans may not be able to comprehend”[16], and has even spawned a mocking website,

Despite these criticisms, Google Wave still receives a fair share of positive press for its future capabilities and potential uses.


Google is building APIs that allow developers to use and build on Google Wave by way of:

* Extensions, program robots to automate common tasks and/or build gadgets to extend or change user interaction (e.g., posting blips on microblog feeds or providing RSVP recording mechanisms).[2][3][18]
* Embed, dropping interactive windows into a given wave on external site, blogs, etc.[2][18]

Google wave Extensions are mainly of 2 types:

* Gadgets : A gadget is an application users can participate with, many of which are built on Google’s OpenSocial platform. A good comparison would be iGoogle gadgets or Facebook applications.

* Robots : Robots are automated participants within a wave. They can talk with users and interact with waves. They can provide information from outside sources (i.e. Twitter, stock quotes, etc.)


Google Wave provides federation using an extension of XMPP, the open Wave Federation Protocol. Being an open protocol, anyone can use it to build a custom Wave system and become a wave provider.[19] The use of an open protocol is intended to parallel the openness and ease of adoption of the e-mail protocol and, like e-mail, allow communication regardless of provider. Google hopes that waves may replace e-mail as the dominant form of Internet communication.[2][8][9] In this way, Google intends to be only one of many wave providers.[2][8][9] It can also be used as a supplement to e-mail, instant messaging, FTP, etc.

A key feature of the protocol is that waves are stored on the service provider’s servers instead of being sent between users. Waves are federated; copies of waves and wavelets are distributed by the wave provider of the originating user to the providers of all other participants in a particular wave or wavelet so all participants have immediate access to up-to-date content. The originating wave server is responsible for hosting, processing, and concurrency control of waves.[8][9] The protocol allows private reply wavelets within parent waves, where other participants have no access or knowledge of them.[8][9]

Security for the communications is provided via Transport Layer Security authentication, and encrypted connections and waves/wavelets are identified uniquely by a service provider’s domain name and ID strings. User-data is not federated, that is, not shared with other wave providers.

Firefly connections

The name was inspired by the Firefly television series[20] in which a wave is an electronic communication (often consisting of a video call or video message).[20] During the developer preview, a number of references were made to the series such as Lars Rasmussen replying to a message with “shiny”, a word commonly used in the series to mean cool or good, and the crash message of Wave being a popular quotation from the series: “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”[2][21] Another common error message, “Everything’s shiny, Cap’n. Not to fret!” is a quote from Kaylee Frye in the 2005 motion-picture Firefly spin-off, Serenity.

During an event in Amsterdam, Netherlands[22] it became apparent that the sixty strong team that is currently working on Wave in Sydney, Australia, use Joss Whedon-related references to describe, among others, the sandbox version of Wave, called Dollhouse after the TV-series by Firefly producer Joss Whedon, which was aired on Fox in the U.S. The development of external extensions is codenamed “Serenity”, after the spaceship used in Firefly and Serenity.

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