Google’s Wave is the latest technology whose whole business plan depends on distributing the source code and having multiple developers work to improve and elaborate on the app beyond Google’s control.
Wave is Google’s proposed replacement for email, and it is a sort of combined Gmail, Gchat, Facebook, Google Docs, and Yahoo games. The core unit is a “wave”, which is a topic many users can be invited to, inside which multiple threads can be started consisting of “blips”, like messages. It’s more dynamic than just a forum, because all users work on all the content in real time, and can rearrange and restructure the whole wave, replacing it with a conclusion when a concensus is reached, or anything else. Google stores the history so important information is not in danger of being lost in this way. Here is a more in-depth explanation.
Google depends on third-party developers in 3 key ways. First, the wave interface, like email, can support multiple implementations, so this will allow applications like Thunderbird to adapt to user preferences for how to represent the wave abstractions. To this effect, Google has published the code for OT, its operation transformation framework, which is what allows all users to edit the wave concurrently, so that developers can match it with the high level of consistency it requires.
Second, Wave will support robots, bots which have the same privileges and status as users, so they can edit waves, and will allow users to do things like translate waves between languages in real time or interact with other businesses sites like twitter. This can allow Wave to be used as a back-end for the business practices of other sites.
Finally, Wave will support a gadget system, so waves can include things like chess games, group piano collaboration, or working together making a route on a google map. Developers can add whatever they like onto this to enable any kind of collaborative project.
One of Google’s biggest worries is that the OT protocol for editing simultaneously will be too complex for developers to be able to make their own functioning apps. It’s offering as much support as possible for this and is going to open up the fully documented code for its own application shortly. Another worry is that the interface itself will be too complicated, not just for companies to make implementations for, but for users to catch on to.
It’s a big question whether users will accept this as a replacement for email, or whether they’ll prefer the old stability linear nature of email. Email and chat might be enough–I can’t see any way I’d really use google Wave at the moment. But often the uses of a program expand beyond what it was originally intended for, and maybe google is acknowledging this by having very few originally intended uses and counting on them expanding after time. If this catches on, proprietary software will seem even more obsolete.