Google just officially announced that it will send out 100,000 invitations to preview Google Wave tomorrow. These accounts will go to developers who are already in the developers preview and users who signed up for accounts at wave.google.com on a first-come, first-served basis. A select number of Google Apps users will also get access to Wave. Google first unveiled Wave in May and since then the team has focused almost exclusively on making the system more stable and scalable.
What is Google Wave?
Even after using Google Wave for a few months now, it is still hard to describe exactly what it is. It’s as much of a real-time chat room as a platform for editing documents collaboratively. It can also be used as a Wiki, to replace email and IM within an organization, or just to organize a pub crawl, as Wave’s Lars Rasmussen points out in today’s blog post. There can be no doubt that Wave feels oddly familiar, especially because of its typical Google design, yet it’s also represents an alien concept for most users, as it combines so many services into one extremely flexible package but still remains deceptively simple to use.
We got a chance to talk to the core Wave team, including Lars and Jens Rasmussen and Stephanie Hannon, last night. They were obviously quite excited about the launch and told us about some of the details regarding the invitation process, Wave’s current features, and some of the team’s plans for the future.
We will look at the details of the launch below, but here are some of the highlights:
- Google will send out more than 100,000 invites tomorrow
- they will go to three groups: current users on the sandbox server, users who signed up for accounts at wave.google.com over the last few months (first-come, first-served), and a few select enterprise users on Google Apps accounts
- more invites will be sent out as the team expands capacity
- users will not be able to invite their friends to Wave directly, but every Wave user will be able to ‘nominate’ 8 friends who will get to the front of the queue for new accounts
- all Wave accounts will move from the sandbox to the wave.google.com domain
- Wave’s contact management system will be integrated with Google Contacts
- the Wave team will highlight robots and widgets from a select number of vendors
- Internet Explorer users will be prompted to install and use Chrome Frame
While the early Wave testers were on a wavesandbox.com account, starting tomorrow, all of these accounts and all the new users will move over to the wave.google.com domain. If you have tested Wave before, don’t expect any new features yet. The Wave team plans to add new features over the next few months, but the current focus in on making sure that the system can scale.
Nominate 8 of Your Friends
Unlike the Gmail beta, Google Wave users who get into the preview tomorrow won’t be able to invite friends directly. Instead, they will be able to ‘nominate’ 8 of their friends for accounts. As the Wave team plans to continue to send out additional invites as it stabilizes the system and adds capacity, these nominated accounts will move to the front of the queue and should get accounts relatively quickly.
For tomorrow, Google officially says that it will send out about 100,000 invitations, though as the Wave team told us yesterday, it will probably send out a few more than that.
Google Wave will be able to tap into your Google contacts (the developer preview didn’t offer this feature). For now, it will only show contacts who are already using Google Wave, though.
Invite a Robot to Your Wave
On Wednesday, 100,000 users will also be able to use some of the robots and widgets that the developers in the preview wrote over the last few months. These range from widgets that allow you to play games with friends to sophisticated teleconferencing apps, with Twitter and blogging apps in between. We will have a close look at some of the more interesting applications tomorrow, but the featured apps will include a real-time, competitive Sudoku game, a Lonely Planet travel widget, and video chat from 6Rounds and a teleconferencing plugin from Ribbit.
For now, Google Wave will not feature an app store or marketplace for widgets and robots. Instead, every user will see a wave with a small number of featured apps in their accounts and be able to install these thanks to the new installer process the Wave team introduced just a short while ago.
When Google launched Chrome Frame, it’s Internet Explorer plugin that can replace the IE rendering engine with Google Chrome, the Wave team already announced that it would support this feature. And indeed, when you go to the Wave homepage with IE, you will now be prompted to install Chrome Frame. As Lars Rasmussen told us, the team is very enthusiastic about Chrome Frame, as it allows the developers to focus on features instead of making sure that Wave runs in Internet Explorer.
In our own experience, Wave definitely works best in Chrome. It will work just fine in Safari and Firefox, though for the most fluid experience, Chrome is currently the best browser.
Still Some Kinks to Work Out
The Wave team stresses that there are still a lot of problems to work out before Wave can really live up to all of its promises. While there was some doubt that the Wave team could actually get the system scaled up and ready for a wider launch earlier this summer, our experience with the developer preview has been very positive over the last few weeks and we definitely noticed that the system became fast and more stable. Now that 100,000 new users will join in, we will obviously have to wait and see how well Wave can scale up to this kind of demand.
For now, chances are that Wave will still crash at times. For major updates, the team will also have to take the whole system down for a few hours now and then.
Some features, however, still need to be implemented. Some of these are quite basic, like the ability to remove users from a wave, while others are a bit more complicated, like the ability to set specific user permissions on a wave. According to the Wave team, many of these missing features will be implemented within the next few months.
How Will People React?
Overall, it will be interesting to see how the Wave infrastructure holds up tomorrow and how people will react when they first see and use Wave.