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“Email has had a good run… But its reign is over.” Does Google Wave change the debate on fixed and wireless communication?

by Andrew Brown | 10月 14, 2009

With the Wall Street Journal pronouncing the “long overdue” death of Email on October 12th, a fierce debate has ensued, surrounding the role of communications in our lives, especially around speed of response, expectations of others and whether social networking and other collaborative tools actually increase or decrease the flood of information that deluges us each and every day. Social networking, blogging and micro-blogging tools have existed for a number of years. Facebook and Twitter have emerged as major winners, with the number of users ramping dramatically. Mobility is a key part of this experience, given that mobile devices and smartphones are the “umbilical cord” of the modern generation. However the experience of using these different tools varies dramatically, from “snacking” or “linking” on Twitter, deeper content via blogs or status updates, multimedia and other external content on Facebook. We also use voice (fixed and mobile), SMS, MMS and Email as well as IM, although. From a wireless standpoint, it is true that data is becoming much more significant for mobile operator networks, but it remains SMS and voice, that are at the core of revenue generation. Either way, many still use social networking tools in a rather siloed manner, although various forms of cross-polination between the social networks is afoot, thanks to aggregators (TweetDeck,  Pixelpipe, ShoZu or Snaptu etc etc) allowing users to post once, and deploy in many places. The pinnacle of this aggregation would see many of the best elements of communication blended into a unified format, which brings us to Google Wave. The preview release of Google Wave into the wild to around 600,000 so far-(a wave invite is like a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Gold Ticket!) has intensified the debate around how we communicate. Pitched as the next generation of Internet communication, the idea is that instead of sending a message and its entire thread of previous messages or requiring all responses to be stored in each user's inbox for context, objects known as waves will contain a complete thread of multimedia messages (blips) and are located on a central server. Waves are shared and collaborators can be added or removed at any point during a wave's existence.  In many ways it is similar in concept to collaboration tools such as Microsoft SharePoint that we have seen in the business market for many years, essentially cloud communication where a single point of communication is shaped or morphed in real-time, without endless duplication (a criticism often levelled at email). Any participant of a wave can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Waves not only can function as e-mail and threaded conversations but also as an instant messaging service, merging the functions of e-mail and instant messaging. It seems that many are looking for reasons why existing forms of communication, such as email, deserve to die: We are now “always online”, we no longer log on and off as in the past, we communicate via social networks like Twitter in real-time, and nobody wants to wait for communication anymore. This is not a new debate. The same criticism was levelled at “snail mail” (physical letters, we used to have those!), but people still need logistics. Buying online is of little use if nobody delivers the goods!! The same is true for email. Email is not just communication, it is a file system it is also a key part of governance and also regulatory compliance for many businesses in the world. A record of what happened, when and why. How is a wave going to achieve restore points along its highly manipulated route? Users are familiar and comfortable with email, it is also baked into many other systems (even down to activating Twitter accounts or an intrinsyc part of an online profile etc). Moreover email can even be used offline! The recent furore over yet another Gmail outage, and the constant stabilty issues with Twitter and other cloud services, would suggest we are not ready to dump email just yet. Without a doubt the contextless nature of communications is a key factor here and there is clearly a form of disruption between the forms of communication? A change is coming. Direct messages in Twitter are a free way to do the equivalent of SMS or IM, fixed or mobile and context  doesn’t matter. As we shift towards critical mass, this will no doubt affect the margins operators can make on SMS. It has taken email a lot longer to see anywhere close to the equivalent penetration or seamless communication between fixed or mobile email. Google Wave cannot achieve this seamless experience in the first instance due to technical limitations for mass penetration on the mobile side, but has enormous potential for consumer communications. Either way, some things will remain consistent… as with email, Twitter or even Google Wave, we will no doubt be plagued by spam…some things never change! Andy Brown Twitter: http://twitter.com/AndyBrownSA
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