Many people have declared email to be dead in the past, and they’ve all been wrong. The typical play has been from instant messenger advocates, and most recently from Facebook. But, while these options have been a valid all-encompassing solution for teenagers and students, I haven’t met a single serious modern IT user whose life isn’t still driven primarily by email. There’s a reason that Outlook and Exchange are such consistent cash cows for Microsoft, and so many business people own Blackberrys. IM, Facebook & Twitter may represent certain facets of your online existence, but if push really came to shove, and you were only allowed to use one electronic service, I bet you every gadget I own that almost everyone will opt to keep their email over anything else.
I certainly could not operate without my email, but after watching the demo of Google Wave, I saw for the first time something that could genuinely be better, without leaving me with a gaping functionality hole in the name of ‘progress’. In retrospect, the idea seems incredibly obvious, but I’m sure the implementation was tricky.
In essence, Google Wave is basically a fusion of email and IM functionality. You still compose emails, reply to them, and include people in the threads, but the whole functionality set can also operate basically in real-time, just like an IM client. Whether something is instantly transmitted interactively depends on whether the person you’re sending it to is online, and some preferences of your own. There were some nice geeky demo things like instant translation via a bot too, but the most important thing to me was how holistic it was. One of the major problems I have is connected with using a mixture of IM and email communication, particularly with clients but also friends. I might remember that I had a conversation with X about Y, and want to go refresh my memory about it, but I don’t remember whether we talked about it on email, or on IM (and whether it was Skype, GTalk, MSN, and which machine I was on at the time). Looking up this information is a pain, because my email is one island of information, and my IM conversations are many separate islands. Being able to search across the whole thing in one swoop, from any PC/device, and see all the conversations, both deferred email-like and instant, all in their original threaded contexts, would be absolutely fantastic. It would give me value in my working life, instantly, right now.
They could go even further, by supporting VOIP calls through it too, and have the option to use voice recognition to transcribe it (or record it as well), or even just to log that the conversation happened and allow me to add a few manual notes to it. I’d imagine this would be early on the list of extensions, by Google themselves or by external developers, since they’re encouraging people to use the API. And I can imagine that linking all this up with Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Docs etc will have a multiplicative effect.
So I’m pretty excited about Wave. It’s the first collaboration tool I’ve seen that could genuinely replace my email (and IM), although I’d then have to tackle the very real question of whether I really want to give Google control of such critical parts of my electronic life.