Google is releasing to developers an early version of Google Wave - a collaboration and communication tool that consolidates features from email, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, multimedia management and document sharing.
In the works for about two years, Wave has the potential to drive people away from popular Google products like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Talk, Picasa, Blogger and Sites, as well as from similar products from competitors like Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL.
However, Google Wave could also fall flat if people don't understand how it can be useful, or if they can't be convinced to give up their email, blogging, IM and other individual online services.
Whatever destiny holds for Wave, it is a bold attempt by Google to give people a new unified web application for their communication and content creation needs, instead of integrating the company's set of discrete online services.
That Wave ranks pretty high within Google's plans is evidenced by the starring role it is getting at the company's I/O developer conference. Thursday's keynote was devoted entirely to Wave, with the two project co-founders and its product manager on stage giving a lengthy and detailed demo of the tool.
"We're banking on Wave having a very large impact, but a lot of it depends on our ability to explain this to users. That's part of the reason why we're putting this out early to developers," said Lars Rasmussen, Wave project co-founder, in an interview.
Because Wave is conceptually adventurous and will require end users to wrap their heads around it, Google wants to get a conversation started about the product months before it's available to consumers, he said.
"It's good that we get to discuss it for some time before it's ready," Rasmussen said.