Google Wave 101

I received invite for Google wave 3 days ago courtesy of a friend Yasir Haleem. I was really excited to get the invite as everyone is trying to get their hands on one and there is a buzz going around this whole Google wave phenomenon. I playing with it for few hours and exploring it I was impressed with it and what it promises for the future. But sadly I have only 3 contacts in my contact list that have Google wave accounts and they too are not active users. I was so much engulfed into this Google wave phenomenon that I read a lot about it though there is not much material available online yet to define and describe Google wave and its capabilities. Everyone is just speculating about its usage and potential it has to becoming next email killer and next generation unified communication platform. So I decided to sum up whatever I have known so far about it from different sources so others can benefit from it. I will try to explain it in simplest language possible excluding all geeky jargon.

What is Google Wave?

logoGoogle Wave is a real-time communication platform. It combines aspects of email, instant messaging, wikis, web chat, social networking, and project management to build one elegant, in-browser communication client. You can bring a group of friends or business partners together to discuss how your day has been or share files. In other words Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Google Wave was the brainchild of a team based out of Sydney, Australia. The core team members are two brothers, Jens and Lars Rasmussen, and lead project manager Stephanie Hannon, all of whom were involved in Google Maps previously.


Google Wave has a lot of innovative features, but here are just a few:

  • Real-time

In most instances, you can see what someone else is typing, character-by-character.

  • Embeddability

Waves can be embedded on any blog or website.

  • Applications and Extensions

Just like a Facebook application or an iGoogle gadget, developers can build their own apps within waves. They can be anything from bots to complex real-time games.

  • Wiki functionality

Anything written within a Google Wave can be edited by anyone else, because all conversations within the platform are shared. Thus, you can correct information, append information, or add your own commentary within a developing conversation.

  • Open source

The Google Wave code will be open source, to foster innovation and adoption amongst developers.

  • Playback

You can playback any part of the wave to see what was said.

  • Natural language

Google Wave can autocorrect your spelling, even going as far as knowing the difference between similar words, like “been” and “bean.” It can also auto-translate on-the-fly.

  • Drag-and-drop file sharing

No attachments; just drag your file and drop it inside Google Wave and everyone will have access.

While these are only a few of the many features of Google Wave, it’s easy to see why people are extremely excited.


Google Wave actually has its own lingo – yes, you have to learn a few definitions if you’re going to really understand this new communication platform. Having knowledge of these terms will help you understand more about Google’s newest project.


  • Wave

A wave, specifically, refers to a specific threaded conversation. It can include just one person, or it can include a group of users or even robots (explained below). The best comparison I can make is that it’s like your entire instant messaging (IM) history with someone. Anything you’ve ever discussed in a single chat or conversation is a wave.

  • Wavelet

A wavelet is also a threaded conversation, but only a subset of a larger conversation (or a wave). It’s like a single IM conversation – a small part of a larger conversation and a larger history. Wavelets, though, can be created and managed separately from a wave.

  • Blip

Even smaller than a Wavelet, a Blip is a single, individual message. It’s like a single line of an IM conversation. Blips can have other blips attached to them, called children. In addition, blips can either be published or unpublished (once again, it’s sort of like typing out an IM message but not yet sending it).

  • Document

A document actually refers to the content within a blip. This seems to refer to the actual characters, words, and files associated with a blip.

  • Extension

An extension is a mini-application that works within a wave. So these are the apps you can play with while using Wave. There are two main types of extensions: Gadgets and Robots

  • Gadgets

A gadget is an application users can participate with, many of which are built on Google’s OpenSocial platform. A good comparison would be iGoogle gadgets or Facebook applications.

  • Robots

Robots are an automated participant within a wave. They can talk with users and interact with waves. They can provide information from outside sources (i.e. Twitter or they can check content within a wave and perform actions based on them (i.e. provide you a stock quote if a stock name is mentioned).

  • Embedded Wave

An embedded wave is a way to take a Google Wave and the conversation within it and place it on your website. Users could use this as a chat room, as a way to contact you, or for something more.

Wave Gadgets


A Wave Gadget is one of two types of Google Wave extensions. Gadgets are fully-functional applications. According to Google, gadgets are primarily for changing the look and feel of waves, although this seems to only scratch the surface of the potential of a wave gadget.

First: almost any iGoogle or OpenSocial gadget can run within Google Wave. That means thousands of applications that have been already created will work in Google Wave. Second: a gadget built within Google Wave can take advantage of live interaction with multiple users. This means something like a live online game with active participation from all users. In that way, it has similarities to Facebook or MySpace applications, which take advantage of your friend network to make games, quizzes, and applications more meaningful and useful.

Gadgets are specific to individual waves, rather than to specific users. Thus, it’s not like having a Facebook app on your profile – the gadget belongs to everyone within the wave. They also do not have titles, to better integrate with the actual conversation. Some of the gadgets already built include a Sudoku gadget, Bidder (which turns your wave into an auction), and Maps (which allows for collaboration on a Google Map).

For a more technical explanation, be sure to check out Google’s Wave Gadgets Tutorial.

Wave Robots


Robots are the other type of Google Wave extension. Robots are like having another person within a Google Wave conversation, except that they’re automated. They’re a lot like the old IM bots of the past, although far more robust. Robots can modify information in waves, interact with users, communicate with others waves, and pull information from outside sources.

Because it acts like a user, you can define its behavior based on what happens in the chat. You could build one as simple as “change the word dog to the word cat” or one as complex as a fully-functional debugger. We’ll probably start seeming some very advanced robots in the near future.

Some of the robots already in service include Debuggy (an in-wave debugger), Stocky (which pulls stock prices based on stock quote mentions), and Tweety (the Twave robot, which displays tweets inside of a wave).

A more advanced explanation is available at Google’s Wave Robots Overview

Wave Embeds


Wave embeds are a little more complex than embedding a YouTube video onto your blog, yet in the end, that’s really what Google Wave Embeds are: a way to take Google Waves onto a third party website. Embedded Waves support many of the functions of the actual Google Wave client, including dragging-and-dropping files.

While the Wave Embeds is still very early stage, Google has already built two: YouTube Playlist Discuss and Multiple Extensions Embed. The former allows you to discuss a YouTube video via a wave and the latter allows for interaction with multiple waves on the same page.

One possibility: Google Wave Embeds may be a real-time replacement to static comments. If Google perfects wave embeds, you could even see comments replaced with waves, although it is way too early to make any calls on the potential of this.

Google’s Wave Embed Developer’s Guide has more advanced information embedding waves.

References for Google Wave

Still can’t get enough of Google Wave? This collection of links and articles will help you understand this new product even better:

  • Google Wave Federation Protocol: Google has provided some community principles, architecture information, and more detailed definitions on their Wave protocol webpage.
  • Google Wave API: For developers interested in building applications for Google Wave, be sure to check out the Wave API website.
  • Learn about its usage: There are tons of ways to use Google Wave–here are just a few examples to get you thinking

Hope this help you understand Google Wave in detail.

Adnan Arif

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