Chapter 1. Introducing Google Wave


Imagine being surrounded by a large crowd of developers, technology enthusiasts, journalists, and bloggers, all eagerly awaiting a surprise announcement by Google. That was the setting when Google Wave was first introduced to the world on May 28, 2009, during the second-day keynote of Google I/O, Google’s annual developer conference in San Francisco, California. That day both techies and nontechies alike were awed by the preview demonstration of Google Wave, a new platform aimed at transforming the way we communicate and collaborate on the Web.

As Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the originators of Google Maps and Google Wave, and Stephanie Hannon, Google Wave’s product manager, demonstrated some of Google Wave’s features and capabilities, it became clear that this new platform had the potential to revolutionize social and business interaction on the Web. Attendees at Google I/O may have been the first to witness the power and extensibility of Google Wave, but soon thereafter a broad audience around the world learned about this new platform as news of Google’s announcement quickly spread around the Web.

The People Behind Google Wave

Google Wave was initially conceived by Lars and Jens Rasmussen (see Figure 1-1), a dynamite brother duo responsible for the initial development of Google Maps. The similarities between the origins, and subsequent success, of Google Maps and Google Wave are no coincidence. The Rasmussen brothers have proven that they have a good balance of innovative spirit and vision to transform web technologies into platforms and products that have high value and appeal for a broad user base.

Back in 2004, while working on Google Maps, the Rasmussen brothers conceived the idea for Google Wave after asking a simple yet valuable question: “What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?”

After working on Google Maps for several more years, the brothers turned their attention to their next project in 2007. That year a small team comprised of Lars, Jens, and three other developers in Google’s Sydney, Australia, office began work on the initial prototype for Google Wave.

Lars and Jens Rasmussen discuss Google Wave at Google I/O. Photo credit: Google, Inc.

Figure 1-1. Lars and Jens Rasmussen discuss Google Wave at Google I/O. Photo credit: Google, Inc.

Work on Google Wave has expanded significantly from its initial origins as a small project (or as a “small startup” as Lars describes it). In the past few years, the Google Wave team has grown to comprise a relatively large, multifaceted team of developers working on various elements of the platform.

Initial Reactions to Google Wave

The demonstration of Google Wave at the Google I/O conference ended in a standing ovation (a rarity at technology conferences). I was fortunate enough to have attended the conference, and in addition to being impressed by Google Wave, I was also awed by the audience reaction that day.

People around me gasped, screamed in excitement, clapped, and cheered during and after the demonstration. I can honestly say that until that day, I had not witnessed developers in an audience raise their laptops frantically in the air with sheer excitement about a new web platform.

As you may have likely observed, the Web was filled with news articles, blog posts, and an explosion of social network messages about Google Wave in the days after Google I/O. The news was not limited to the Web either, as media outlets around the world released print articles about Google Wave and its potential to transform how web users communicate and collaborate.

Although it is impossible to cover all the reactions that ensued in the hours, days, and weeks that followed the preview demonstration, it is worth exploring some of the more salient comments that appeared on the Web.

Shortly after Google Wave was introduced, Tim O’Reilly posted a profound observation on his blog:

When I saw Wave for the first time on Monday, I realized that we’re at a kind of DOS/Windows divide in the era of cloud applications. Suddenly, familiar applications look as old-fashioned as DOS applications looked as the GUI era took flight. Now that the Web is the platform, it’s time to take another look at every application we use today and ask the same question Lars and Jens asked themselves: What would this look like if we invented it today instead of twenty-five years ago?[1]

The Guardian’s John Naughton summarized Google Wave in three thoughts:

Having watched it, one was left with three thoughts: wonderment at the scale of Google’s ambition; admiration of its technical ingenuity; and scepticism about the prospects of something this complex becoming a mainstream product. But one thing is now clear: the browser has become the platform. And that’s big news.[2]

And Gartner Research released a preliminary analysis of Google Wave’s likely influence on the Web on June 2, 2009, less than a week after the platform was announced:

Wave will not challenge Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Office SharePoint Server for five to 10 years, if it ever does. Nevertheless, Wave will create both competition and opportunity for other players in the market. Wave shows that workplace offerings will eventually have to combine Internet standards and a decentralized, federated architecture. Whether or not Wave ultimately succeeds, the Web will win.[3]

Lastly, MG Siegler contributed the first post on TechCrunch about Google Wave, drawing more than 500 visitor comments in the first two weeks. As Siegler observed, Google Wave is a risky endeavor with a significant payoff:

It’s a really interesting concept, one that you really do need to see in action. It’s ambitious as hell—which we love—but that also leaves it open to the possibility of it falling on its face. But that’s how great products are born. And the potential reward is huge if Google has its way as the ringleader of the complete transition to our digital lives on the Web.[4]

It is this potential that has drawn much attention to Google Wave: it is both a user-friendly platform that leverages many present-day communication and collaboration tools as well as a highly customizable and extensible platform that integrates various types of protocols and standards.

Only time will tell if Google Wave realizes its potential to revolutionize web-based communication and collaboration. Despite both positive and skeptical reactions to its announcement, the success of Google Wave depends on widespread adoption by a broad user base and consistent contributions by a developer community eager to leverage the platform.

[1] “What Might Email Look Like If It Were Invented Today?” (, published on May 28, 2009.

[2] “Google Makes a New Wave and Transforms the Browser” (UK) website (, published on June 7, 2009.

[3] “The Web Wins Whether or Not Google Wave Succeeds” (

[4] “Google Wave Drips with Ambition. A New Communication Platform For a New Web” (, published on May 28, 2009.

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