Is Google’s Wave the Write Stuff?

SAN FRANCISCO — Google surprised attendees at the wrap-up day of its Google I/O conference with a developer preview of a communications system that is being pitched as an alternative to e-mail, IM and other collaborative tools.

Called Wave, the online system lets users write and post messages that others can see, edit or retrieve. Within a message thread, you can have private conversations or engage in a kind of instant message chat. Anyone participating in a Wave can see when a new message or edit can be made they haven’t seen yet, and participation can be public or limited to a selected group invited by the creator.

Noting that the first e-mail system was created over 40 years ago, Wave co-inventor Lars Rasmussen said work on Wave began two years ago — and was based on the premise, “What would e-mail look like if it was created today?”

Rasmussen, who previously led development of Google Maps with his brother Lens Rasmussen, also highlighted ways in which Wave incorporates and enhances other common communications technologies.

Unlike traditional IM, you don’t to wait for the other person to finish typing, rather you can choose to see what they’re typing as the message is created and start a reply (the message creator can hit a check box to not let message creation seen). There is also a playback feature letting you see the creation of messages, a kind of audit trail function.

Google said it wanted to show an early release and make the online system available to developers so the company could get feedback on how to improve it. Developers can also create extensions to the open source Wave system to add features.

The crowd of some 4,000 developers at Google I/O applauded several times during demos that showed off featured like the ability to drag photos into a Wave rather than deal with attachments.

Another demo showed how a Wave document or conversation can be dragged into a blog — while remaining editable.

Rasmussen showed several Wave extensions to give developers an idea of what can be done. One, a spell checker, checks the spelling of a word in the context of the document’s content.

So when the phrase, “Can I have been soup?” is typed into a Wave, the system automatically offers to correct “been” to “bean”.

Google’s vice president of engineering, Vic Gondotra, said Wave is “an unbelievable demonstration of what’s possible in the browser.”

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