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With the first concrete announcement regarding the release of Google Wave issued today, the future of search engines has never looked so unclear. Wave will be distributed to a lucky 100,000 initially on September 30th according to a number of sources, including The Telegraph. With the new feature offering full integration of email, instant messenger services and elements of social media, it looks set to become the online communication choice of the future. Or will it?
Microsoft have already jumped the gun, being the first search engine to provide an official tie-in with Twitter. Bing has incorporated some elements, including tweets from the leading Twitterati within their search (covered in Bing Unleash Real-Time Search); something that neither Yahoo nor Google have been able to match thus far. They’ve gone a stage further too with full real-time and conventional search on BingTweets.
Having left their site in the same cluttered state for the past few years, Yahoo have also announced that they are going to implement a complete overhaul in the coming months. Offering elements of iGoogle, with its personalised layout, as well as providing Facebook and Twitter integration, it looks like a streamlined and (dare I say it) cutting edge information and communication hub. Again, all of this is on one page and you’ll still only be a click away from the world’s most popular email service, Yahoo mail; so how will Google Wave better this?
Well, in truth, it probably won’t. It’s not even really meant to. Google Wave is for those people who are in constant loops of conversation online. Whether it is on IM or email, Wave will allow dialogue to flow more freely and offer users the chance to get in on the discussion instantly. You can also share information, links and data at the click of a button, whilst also receiving a constant stream of feeds from your favourite sites.
There’s no doubting the complexity of Wave and the huge potential it can have for the net savvy. But that could be its main strength as well as its primary downfall; will average Internet users really want this much interactivity? There is, after all, only so much you can fit on one page. In order for users to get the full benefit they’ll need to ensure all of their friends are signed up. Which essentially means that it either takes over the world or manages to get few to only a select few (million); the Google marketing team better be ready for some serious groundwork.
The potential working partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft has, in many ways, overshadowed the forthcoming Wave. Just as with iGoogle, it’s a fantastic idea but more often than not it remains underused and largely misunderstood. Yahoo has the benefit of already being a site that many use for their news and mail requirements (unfortunately not quite so much for its search); and therefore by universally updating its front page to feature additional features that people are likely to want to use, Facebook and Twitter being the two obvious choices, and removing the clutter that has blighted the page for so long, surely the brand’s popularity can only rise. If they were to integrate Bing search too…well, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves slightly, but that really could be a Google killer, Wave or no Wave.
Of course it should be noted that Wave is being developed as an add-on, not a replacement for the current search page (unlike Yahoo). This is a piece of software that will word in harmony with the search and should make online communication more fluid and interactive. Its effectiveness will only be determined a few months after its general release. Initial uptake will be huge, there can be no doubts about that, but will that kind of momentum sustain? Is Wave really just a slightly more sophisticated Facebook? Will the wider world really understand what it is all about and buy into it?
It’ll be exciting to see just what Wave is like in the flesh. Due to its complicated structure, descriptions on what it can do seem to differ wildly. Search engines need to innovate to move forward; this year, probably for the first time, all three main players are making huge strides one after the other. Where will this all end? Who knows, but it certainly looks like it won’t be dull for the rest of the year and a fair time beyond.