Google on Thursday encouraged software developers to ride into the future of email with a project called "Wave," which opens inboxes to text, video, pictures, maps and even social network feeds.
"Wave" expands the capabilities of email to let people communicate and work together in real-time with text, photos, videos, maps, and more, according to Google software engineering manager Lars Rasmussen.
"In Google Wave you create a wave and add people to it," Rasmussen wrote in a blog post at the California Internet giant's website.
"Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web. You see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave."
A "wave" prototype built by a five-person team "holed up in a conference room in the Sydney office" for months was previewed at a Google developers conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
"After more than two years of expanding our ideas, our team, and our technology, we're very eager to return and see what the world might think," Rasmussen wrote.
A Wave software kit was provided to developers at the conference.
Wave allows for collaboration and communication by letting people send out pictures, messages, or videos that can be built on or modified as they stream from recipient to recipient.
Waves can be rewound to see how exchanges evolved, according to Google.
"Developers are going to see the potential of Google Wave as a platform; we hope they'll leap on it," Wave engineer Adam Schuck said in an interview posted at the US firm's website.
"They'll be able to integrate it with existing systems they use today, or produce new tools that allow people to improve and manage their communications."
The computer code for Wave will be open source, meaning developers are free to modify it as they wish.
"We're inviting developers to add all kinds of cool stuff before our public launch," Rasmussen wrote.
No launch date for Wave has been specified. Rasmussen and his brother, Jens, founded an online mapping firm bought by Google in 2004. The brothers' technology went into Google's free Internet map service.
Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle said that while the Wave goal is feasible, building a central station for various online photo, video, text and social networking feeds presents complex challenges.
Such a project also calls for cooperation from an array of technology firms, some of them Google rivals, according to Enderle.
"You start throwing these complex things together and things start breaking," Enderle said. "And, Google has not shown an ability to drive the kind of collaboration it would take to make it happen."
Google Wave has solved "a bunch of stuff that has traditionally been very hard" such as real-time collaboration and hosted data, according to team engineer Casey Whitelaw.
"Developers won't have to think about all of that, they'll be able to just build their app and go," Whitelaw said in the interview.
"The primary ideas are that everything is live, and everything is editable."
The Wave team in Sydney held weekly "team huddles" that evolved to include theme songs, prizes, and one member's quest to "help us develop our chocolate palate beyond M&M" candies, according to Whitelaw.
"Rather than try to anticipate every possible use it will be put to, we've made it open and extensible so developers can come up with what they think is cool and useful," Whitelaw said of Wave.