Last week saw the release of two new technologies from two of the giants of information technology, Microsoft and Google. Bing [“But It’s Not Google”] is Microsoft’s latest attempt at a search engine, and Google’s Wave is a new communication and collaboration tool. The scope and aims of these new technologies couldn’t be more different.
First, let’s start with Bing. It’s a search engine — you already know what those are, and this is yet another shot at supplanting Google. Bing adds some new categorization schemes and a few interface tweaks, but nothing revolutionary. Despite the $100 million Microsoft plans to use for marketing Bing, I have a hard time seeing it taking over the search market. As Seth Godin comments:
The problem, as far as I can tell, is that it is trying to be the next Google. And the challenge for Microsoft is that there already is a next Google. It’s called Google.
Google is not seen as broken by many people, and a hundred million dollars trying to persuade us that it is, is money poorly spent.
Godin goes on to point out that if any of the interface tweaks Bing offers turn out to be popular or useful, they can easily be incorporated into Google, thus negating Bing’s advantage. It would be nice to see someone really compete with Google, but that means creating something new, something beyond what already exists, something visionary. Which brings us to Google’s Wave.
Wave is Google’s attempt to reinvent e-mail, an experiment on a much grander scale than Bing’s attempt to recreate and slightly extend Google. The premise behind Wave is, “What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?” Like most of you, I didn’t have the time to sit through Google’s 80-plus minute introductory presentation for Wave. I read the summaries, and found it a bit confusing. My initial reaction was similar to that of John Gruber:
I don’t understand what it is. It seems not just technically complex but also conceptually complex. Communication systems that succeed are usually conceptually simple: the telegraph, the telephone, fax, email, IM, Twitter.
After a few days’ reflection, Andy Inhatko did an excellent job at putting together a better explanation. As Inhatko writes, Wave is not a simple tool (like a lightbulb or a toaster), it’s more of a wide open platform (like electricity itself), and there’s a limitless number of ways to apply it. Conveniently, the example he uses is publishing a newspaper article, something that directly relevant for most of us Scholarly Kitchen readers. It’s still a bit daunting, but it’s easier to see the great potential there:
Once again: Wave is electricity, not illumination. It’s “communication” and not any one specific way of communicating anything to anybody…
It even forces you to adjust your definition of “communication.”
Joe Wikert has a comment on Wave as well, that these are the sorts of approaches we need. Most of what’s being done for e-books is Bing-like, taking what we already do for print and slightly extending it. We need to think bigger, to find new paradigms, and as Kent put it last week, to think more about the future of reading, rather than the future of books.