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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Google Wave Federation: Why it Matters

According to The Next Web, the Google Wave team is getting ready to open up its servers for federation. This announcement may come as early as today.

The Google Wave we see today is only one part of what Wave is all about. Wave is also an open protocol that allows different Wave providers to run their own Wave servers. These are not just stand-alone Wave servers for internal use in a company, however. This protocol gives Wave providers the ability to exchange messages between different servers that are running Wave-based services, just like different email providers can pass emails back and forth thanks to standardized email protocols.

Update: A Google spokesperson just told us that the company will have more news about the launch of the Wave federation program early next week - not today.

What The Google Wave Federation Looks Like

The Wave team likes to compare Wave to email - and just like email, Wave users will be able to exchange messages and share waves with Wave users on different servers. Right now, Google is the only Wave provider on the market. This will soon change. Wave providers will be able to use the Wave federation protocol to share updates and users only have to know the other users' wave address. A wave address looks just like an email address: @.

To reach its potential as a ubiquitous new means for real-time communication, Wave has to be open and available to as many users as possible. If Wave only existed in Google's silo, it wouldn't be very interesting.

wave_protocol_graph_oct09.pngIf you are interested in the technical background, Google offers a very readable White Paper about the Google Wave federation architecture.

What Does This Mean for Users?

Because it's a federated protocol, you could soon run your own Wave server. No pre-packaged distributions that would allow a user or company to set up a Wave server exist at this point, but it's only a matter of time before these will arrive. Hopefully, some of these will also experiment with alternative user interfaces that will extend the functionality of Wave beyond Google's current implementation.

Companies will be able to host their own Wave servers and use them to communicate internally or with clients who run their own Wave servers. Many enterprise companies are still worried about storing their data in a hosted environment. If Google wants to make Wave palatable for this market, these companies need to have the ability to control their data and customize the experience for their employees.

For our thoughts about Google Wave use cases, also see our posts about Wave in education and arts and filmmaking.

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