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What is Google Wave?

February 26, 2010
If you’ve ever tried to conduct a complicated conversation over email with multiple people, you know how challenging it can be to untangle discussions of several topics over many email threads. If the conversation also involves trading a document back and forth for editing, it can be even tougher to keep everyone current.
Google Wave is a new communication tool that attempts to address this problem by combining features from email, online chat, electronic document sharing, wikis, and social networking in one place. Google describes Wave as being in “preview” release since it was opened to the general public in November 2009, but users already have access to all of its functions.
In creating Wave, Google’s intent was to provide a web-based space in which an unlimited number of participants can communicate and edit documents in multimedia conversations called “waves.” As with email and instant messaging, users can send notes back and forth to each other, and can even see messages being typed in real time. Unlike email and IM, any user can go back and edit or add to any previous message (called a “blip”), making it possible to keep track of multiple topics at once.  Also unlike email, new participants can be easily added or removed at any point in the conversation, and waves can even be made public, allowing anyone to participate.  
In addition to text documents, a wide range of files and attachments can be embedded into waves, including image slide shows, YouTube videos, and Google Maps. Small applications, called “gadgets,” can also be attached, letting users do things like adding “Yes/No/Maybe” RSVP buttons for scheduling meetings or social events.   Waves can also be linked to each other to create a wiki-like resource.
Google Wave is a developing product, so its full potential is still unclear. However, all of its combined functions already make Wave a helpful tool for organizing events, managing group projects, and conducting virtual meetings. For law students, Wave might be a good way to take and share class notes and writing assignments, or to organize study groups and interest group events. Practicing attorneys might use Wave to communicate with clients or opposing counsel, in addition to facilitating office tasks.
At this stage, use of Google Wave is by invitation only, issued by existing registered users or by Google directly. If you’re interested in trying out Wave and don’t have a friend who is already using it, you can request an invitation here.
Further information on Google Wave:
For a quick and entertaining introduction, watch the two-minute Dr. Wave Introduction Video at Google
Lifehacker published an easy-to-understand side-by-side comparison of Wave’s features against email, instant messenger, and other forms of communication
For exhaustive information on what Google Wave is and how to use it, see The Complete Guide to Google Wave, a comprehensive e-book by Gina Trapani and Adam Pash
Possible implications for the legal community are offered by The Untethered Lawyer Blog at What Does Google Wave Mean for Lawyers? and LexisNexis’s Legal Technology Blog at Will Google Wave Ripple or Roar Through Law Firms?
ReadWriteWeb suggests some applications of Wave for students and instructors at Google Wave Use Cases: Education