Google Wave, the search giant's experimental online collaboration and communications service, is now available to the general public following a year of invitation-only beta testing.
Wave is Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) ambitious effort to recast online collaboration in a real-time setting while roping in more traditional IP-based communication channels like instant messaging and e-mail. Using a single, shared online interface, Wave enables users to communicate and collaborate on a single topic in real time, offering a set of controls to fine-tune how information is shared across the group or to the public Web.
Touted by some as a Microsoft SharePoint killer, Google Wave made a splashy debut last May when the company announced the service and invited a limited set of developers to access the open source project and suggest improvements. Then in September, Google announced plans to broaden Wave's availability by putting it in invitation-only mode for the public, steadily expanding the number of test users it allowed into the service.
Then today, in the first bit of news coming out of the company's annual I/O developer conference, Google said that it has made numerous improvements to the service and that Wave is now ready for prime time.
"If you tried Google Wave out a while ago, and found it not quite ready for real use, now is a good time to come back for a second try," Google Group Product Manager Stephanie Hannon said in a blog post. "Wave is much faster and much more stable than when we began the preview, and we have worked hard to make Wave easier to use."
Throughout Wave's short life, Google has been candid in describing the service as experimental, often conceding that features were confusing and asking test users for feedback on how to improve the product. Google admitted today that it could have done a better job explaining to users exactly what Wave is and how it works.
Today, the company said it has arrived at what it considers a more polished version of the service, and is adding several new features to its Wave APIs and open sourcing more of the production code, such as the rich text editor and a whitepaper describing the publisher/client protocol.
The general availability means that new users can sign up at the Google Wave site, and Google Apps administrators at businesses, schools or other organizations can add other members of their staffs to their Wave for no additional fee.