When Google announced that it was discontinuing development of Google Wave, the company's attempt to turn e-mail into a real-time collaboration platform, there was a fair amount of smug satisfaction. A giant had stumbled.
Collaboration took a hit too. Tradition-oriented IT organizations had always suspected this social, collaborative, hierarchy-destroying, hippie-feelgood tech was over-hyped from the start. And here was the proof.
But real-time, social collaboration technology turns out to be hearty enough to have survived its period of youthful experimentation. At the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 Conference, which begins on November 8th in Santa Clara, Calif., a number of large organizations will report on their social collaboration initiatives, including Citibank, Wells Fargo, and the U.S. Department of State.
Collaboration used to be about documents. Now, it's social; it's about people. People have become an alternative form of file system. Search still relies on keywords but knowledge workers increasingly have another option: finding the person who can help.
Novell engineering VP Andy Fox observes that while Google Wave had some really interesting aspects, like real-time collaboration and support for federation, Wave always struck him as a little bit odd. "It didn't have the full collaboration depth we expected," he said, citing the absence of support for groups, social functions, or long-term document storage. "It was a separate version of e-mail in which you could edit files together [with other users]."
The real-time collaboration engine of Wave, or a version of it, ended up inside of Google Docs, where it fits well, says Fox. What remains of Wave is an open-source project; Google's impulse to reinvent e-mail has been replaced by a more modest and practical goal among enterprise software vendors: augmenting existing modes of communication to help people work together more efficiently.
Novell is forging ahead with the development of Pulse, a real-time enterprise communication and collaboration platform that relies on Wave's federation protocol. Announced a year ago, Pulse was made available to a limited number of users as a preview starting in March. The company won't say exactly what it plans to announce at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, but chances are it will have something to do with wider availability.
Fox says that Pulse is a complete collaboration platform, but one that's designed to complement users' favorite applications rather than replace them. "It's very social," he said, noting that you can invite people into groups, from inside or outside your company, and start assembling assets in real-time.
It's a content repository that provides the opportunity to work together in a structured or ad hoc way. "People won't look at it as a place where documents go to die," he said.