I've been thinking about Google Wave and its potential. To some, Google Wave is an integrated email, instant messaging, and collaboration platform that will mostly be used in the consumer space to make keeping in touch with friends and family easier. To others, Google Wave is a potential SharePoint competitor, offering real-time file collaboration for marketers writing a memo or programmers writing code. And of course, there are some individuals who go way overboard and say that Google Wave will radically change the way individuals communicate and view the world.
The jury's still out for me, but I might just fall into that last category.
What is Google Wave?
Google Wave is Google's answer to, "What would email be like if it was created today, rather than 40 years ago?" Wave was demoed at Google I/O this May, and is expected to be released later this year.
Wave provides you with a platform resembling an email inbox (located on your browser). From there, you can send email-like messages called waves. You select the recipients and a thread/wave is created. Anyone on that thread/wave can reply in real-time, modify other responses, etc. You can add new individuals at any time to the wave.
Beyond that, Wave is a culmination of possibilities. Google has already built capabilities for Wave to integrate blogs, Twitter, games, images, and video into it. In other words, why email a link to a funny video to your friend when you can imbed it in a wave, send it to anyone you want, who can just as easily link other people in, comment on the video, upload new videos, etc.?
What's the Big Deal?
Well, the big deal is that as Wave grows in popularity, so also grows the unlimited extension potential. Because Wave is open source, any company can build its own version of Wave for use in the organization, and build whatever they want in to Wave. If/when this happens, the ubiquity of Wave will settle. And as it does, the amount of extensions developers build will increase exponentially. The result? An integrated platform that combines the best elements of hundreds of collaboration and communication vehicles. Let's consider some of the possible consequences of this.
Consequence One: Social Networking Business Dies
Social networking is, as it stands, a struggling business. Even huge platforms, such as Twitter and YouTube, are operating at massive losses, due to the difficulty to make any profit off advertising. The heart of these sites is the community, so there's nothing to stop all of the users from migrating to a competitor if the site's advertising becomes too invasive. However, it is still costly to host all of the data on a site such as YouTube, and there needs to be some way to repay those costs.
Google Wave just adds another straw to this camel's back. With people tweeting and uploading videos through Wave, what little revenue these sites might generate from those actions are taken away, because your site isn't getting the views or clicks.
Consequence Two: Information Is a Commodity
A decade ago, "Ten tips for writing a cover letter" was the type of thing you charged an hourly fee for. Today, this type of information (as well as much more in-depth information) is readily-available for free. Investigative journalists go to great lengths to get an early scoop on big news stories (or discover that the scoop exists at all), but bloggers can just as easily recap the news story minutes later. Ultimately, information becomes a commodity.
By aggregating news sites, Google News has helped make news sites commodities. And as Google Wave combines hundreds of communication platforms (with a searchable, sortable interface), the information on blogs and social networking sites will all be commoditized even further.
For IT pros (and many other professions), this means the need for specialization will increase. As individuals build massive networks (and increasingly gain information themselves, or at least know where to find it), there will be little need for basic, generalist information from a professional. Professionals will only be consulted for in-depth, industry specific information that isn't available on free channels.
Consequence Three: Open Source Will Grow
I know: people have been saying open source will take over the software industry for years. I'm not saying that, but I do think that Google Wave will further commoditize basic productivity applications, such as Word. And, despite the capabilities of SharePoint (and likely Word 2010), there comes a point where it's simply more efficient to create information through the web and keep it there. I believe most basic information will reside on the web only--already, we are seeing this with photos, letters (emails), and conversations (chats). As these online tools grow in functionality, this trend should increase.
But most of all, open source will grow, especially in the consumer space, because people are starting to expect everything for free. From a political standpoint, people are trending more towards a European model of government, resembling more socialist ideals (especially the younger generations). And so it is becoming with technology: where individuals don't need to pay a business, they won't (and most young adults have no conflict of conscience in pirating music and videos). This means software companies will need to offer increasingly compelling offers to keep the attention (and dollars) of their audiences.
Change: Fast, Yet Gradual
Google Wave will not single-handedly shape the industry in these ways, but it will help expedite what is already happening right before our eyes. The one issue that I did not discuss is the issue of generations: not only are people moving in these directions (seeking free information and products), but as younger, techno-savvy generations become the mainstream generations (and not just the emerging generations), these ideals will become even more common. In many ways, this creates more opportunities for IT than it takes away. As time passes, employees in all sectors will be expected to have more knowledge of technology. If you combine your knowledge of technology with understanding of business, people, and processes, you will be priceless to your organization, whether in an IT role or in another business function.
As for Google Wave: look to see it start in the consumer space, then grow into changing how we do business. Just as shifting cultures (smartphones, Facebook, being green) have shaped business over the last decade.