Google made some big advancements with applications like the Reader and Gmail over the past few years, and now they are hoping to do it again with Wave. I took a look at Google Wave and some of the features it is likely to offer. Keep in mind that, as of this writing, Wave is released to developers and is still in early beta, so things may change before it is generally available.

What is Wave?

Google Wave is a communication and collaboration tool designed to aggregate content from multiple streams, like mail, chat, search, pictures, and other areas, and share it with other people you choose, or those on your “wave.”

Anyone you have added to your Wave will be able to reply in context to anything on the shared stream or edit the content at any time. I haven’t seen any indication of editing being controllable at this time, but it would make sense for this to be added to allow some security in documents that you just want others to read.

I can share via IM or e-mail so why use Wave?

The biggest reason I can see to give Wave a chance would be live sharing. Suppose I am working on a document with a team of individuals from all around the country and need to get their feedback during a working session. If the documents are shared using Wave, the transmission is happening in real time to all people on the project.

The nicest part is a participant’s ability to reply anywhere they feel necessary, in context or through editing of the shared content. With Wave there is no waiting for e-mail messages to be seen or voicemails returned.

Another feature of Google Wave that I see as being extremely useful is playback. When working with a group of people on a document, if someone steps away for a phone call and needs to get caught up they have the ability to play back content in Wave to see what happened while they were away. Think of this like Tivo for documents or shared sessions. Being able to play back changes to see what was happening on the stream will save time and not require other parties to “catch you up.”

Will Wave take off?

Whether Wave will be popular or not is anyone’s guess at this point. I think it has a ton of potential to move documents and collaboration to the Google cloud. Sure, Google Apps allows multiple people to share a document, but being able to share the entire document, track its history of changes, and participate in any conversation that goes along with it might make quite a difference for some teams and types of projects.

I will likely be one of the early adopters when Wave hits public beta to see if the features are worth their salt. The concept of managing communication by party rather than by message or even by conversation could put Google ahead of the rest, but it may take a long time for a majority of people to find real-time collaboration a useful tool.