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June 3, 2009

Wave Riding Over Bing

In the future, my dad will be a blogger. He’ll create wikis. He’ll have his work translated into languages spoken across Europe, Asia, and South America. He’ll accomplish it effortlessly with Google Wave. I watched the 80-minute developer preview of Wave, and it’s going to make nearly everyone a social media creator.

Seth Godin made the point that “the real next Google” is Google, thanks to what it’s doing with Wave. He contrasted that with Microsoft Bing, a search engine with a few features that Google can easily copy.

One of the problems with Bing is that it’s anti-social. That’s a dangerous proposition for a new digital brand. Microsoft says in its press release, “The explosive growth of online content has continued unabated, and Bing was developed as a tool to help people more easily navigate through the information overload.” But that “explosive growth” is largely due to the proliferation of social media, while the tool is still largely standard search functionality.

The release further notes that Bing, the “Decision Engine,” is “providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions.” First of all, I’ve spent some time with Bing, and while it offers many new ways to refine searches, it doesn’t move beyond search in the slightest. On another note, one obvious way to help consumers make informed decisions would be to build in elements that tap their social networks and user-generated content. One start-up, Hunch, aims to do exactly that, by combining user contributions and personalization to help people make smarter decisions. Whether or not Hunch succeeds, it’s a real step beyond search.

Bing is anti-social to the point that it lets you watch Hulu videos within the search results (it feels more like a search portal than a decision engine), but it doesn’t let you share the clips. Contrast this with Google Wave, which is all social.

That’s the simplest way to understand it: Wave makes everything social. It incorporates some elements of other social applications — Gmail, Google Talk, Blogger, collaborative functions of Google Docs — and blends them together to create live and time-shifted social experiences.

The ultimate power of Wave won’t be known for a while. Google is opening up the service for developers to build on, so much of the functionality will develop over time, making it comparable to Twitter. Still, there are some general principles of Wave that should hold true and improve. Here are a dozen highlights:

  • Everything created in this new service is a Wave.
  • A Wave can be private, much like an email string or an instant message conversation, or it can be public, like a blog entry or wiki.
  • Waves can be edited in real time, so that everyone who can access the Wave can see the updates appear character by character.
  • Any kind of portable content (including some forms that may not have been easily portable previously) can be incorporated into Waves, including photos, videos, and maps.
  • All such forms of content can benefit from Waves’ collaborative capabilities, such as having multiple people upload photos to a communal album and collectively provide captions.
  • Changes to Waves can be played back so it’s easy to see the evolution of a Wave over time.
  • Games become social, and even competitive.
  • Mobile integration is built in, so Waves can be edited from anywhere.
  • Waves can instantly translate among dozens of languages on the fly, so that collaborators who natively speak Chinese and Hebrew, for example, can effortlessly communicate with each other.
  • Contextual spell-checking happens instantly, with the example shown of “Icland is an icland” turning into “Iceland is an island.” This feature isn’t that social, but it makes contributors look more intelligent when they share the Waves.
  • Comments turn into conversations. Many blog tools do this already, but this applies to every form of commenting, from those made during document edits to comments on photos.
  • Waves can integrate with other social services such as Twitter and Orkut, plus many more to come.

Not all of this might make sense to someone like my dad, but I couldn’t have explained Gmail to him either in terms of how it groups together email conversations and uses labels instead of folders. I’m pretty confident, however, that once he starts using Wave, he’ll wind up creating photo blogs while having seamless conversations with relatives in France, Israel, and Brazil.

Wave will redefine the “lean-forward” experience of the Web. When you need a break and want to lean back, though, you can watch those Hulu videos on Bing.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at digital marketing agency 360i. You can reach him at, on Twitter at @dberkowitz, and through his blog at <