Google's Wave Concept More Important Than The Product

Last Updated Nov 2, 2009 7:13 AM EST

Many people, including my colleague Michael Hickins, have been writing about the importance of Google's Wave to the company and to businesses. But I'd disagree. It's not the product itself, which is being hit with decidedly mixed reviews during the beta test, that is important so much as the concept that the software represents.

The tech industry is often an all-or-nothing crowd, where entire concepts are expected to live or die with a given product's success or failure. And looking too closely at Wave, at least through the eyes of those who have actually used it, will reveal a complex and contradictory set of opinions and observations:

There is no way you could say definitively whether Wave was useful or not yet -- too new, too few users, too little experience to uncover the natural ways that you might make use of it. But it's important to keep sight of the real pivotal point: assuming that a 30-plus-year-old technology like email is the best way to communicate using technology is simply foolish. We're early in the process of learning how people want and need to use communications, largely because everything is built on assumptions formed by older means. Either you talk to everyone or a group or one person, but you don't switch from one mode to the other mid-stream. You might attach video or audio to some kind of message, but the video and audio can't really be the messages themselves, perhaps with some text attached to them. Communications is either synchronous or asynchronous, with no allowances for a sliding set of priorities and time-frames, depending on the nature of what is happening.

That's what makes Wave important, because it's one of the first challenges to the hegemony of the expected. It's what makes Mozilla's Raindrop important as another experiment in making software "people-centric both in how we process messages, and in how we can help give people control over their personal data and experiences," by automating some tasks like channeling and gathering different types of messages as well as integrating various types of media. It's a direction that virtually every company involved in communications of any form -- meanings virtually any technology company -- will have to explore if they don't want to find themselves obsolete.

Image via stock.xchng user lusi, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.