Google Wave

Google Wave is a pretty impressive demo, and the fact that they are open sourcing most of it, documenting the protocol and enabling federation is a major win, but I’m hesitant to think it will replace email anytime soon, if ever.

John Gruber has a very interesting observation:

Communication systems that succeed are usually conceptually simple: the telegraph, the telephone, fax, email, IM, Twitter. So color me skeptical regarding Wave’s prospects.

A very valid point. Popular technical communication systems solve one communications problem. Attempts to solve more than one so far have failed. A good example is the video phone we were supposed to have in every home 20 years ago. Even today with cheap web cams, video and telephony is rare to combine and is seen as somewhat of a novelty.

Wave also has other limitations such as people who use Wave interacting with people who don’t. Most of the “wow” in Wave requires interacting with other Wave users. Pretty cool if everyone you communicate with is using Wave, but no so much if many/most of your contacts aren’t using Wave. How many people only communicate with others using the same mail provider? Google users never email Yahoo and Microsoft users?

Will Wave be adopted? For one thing it will change the business model of many email providers. Wave will be significantly more resource intensive than basic webmail and POP3 access (or IMAP for the rare few). One could argue spam has made Email somewhat resource intensive, but Email has more slack regarding expected latency since it’s not “real time”. Email is often given away with internet access, web hosting, or just as a freebie because providers know that email keeps users coming back and it’s extremely low cost to provide. It also retains users. For example lots of non-AOL users keep their AOL account just for the email.

Then there’s the issue of ownership. Group editing a wave sure sounds like fun, as it’s so wiki-like. All that collaboration is also a real boost for productivity, but it does have it’s downsides. Who owns that data? Obviously companies are going to be a bit concerned about this aspect. Email has the benefit of being rather concrete. Send, receive. Those are the only two functions supported. Replies are merely a copy of a previously received email with an appended response. Ad-hoc collaboration seems to create a new twist. The courts have also seen their share of email. Wave means new precedents and interpretation in the law. How many companies you think want to test that pool?

One thing the Google team said virtually nothing about was security.

Email was never designed to be secure. SMTP servers initially had no authentication anyone could send using any SMTP server. Auth was bolted on later on, and is still problematic (receive before send anyone?). Presumably since Wave is built on top of XMPP SSL will be we the encryption mechanism. But that’s only on the transport level between federated servers. What about end to end? Is an S/MIME like method supported? SSL to the user is a secure transport layer but doesn’t protect from interception by either server. Since it’s text you could use PGP and send a message, though you loose a lot of functionality and grace.

SPF is a hack for email origin verification. It works OK where it’s supported, but not everyone supports it from a provider or user perspective making it a pretty poor solution. Will Wave be utilizing EV-SSL? How about supporting verification from the actual user? S/MIME signature? Verifying identity is critical to being a successor to email. Both verifying the organization, and the user at the organization.

Lastly spam. How does Wave attempt to mitigate the spam problem? Sounds like one of the possibilities is a whitelist which doesn’t work in email, and is unlikely to work in a Wave. Unsolicited emails are good in many non-spammy situations. For example a friend emailing from a new address or another business discussing a partnership. Sure you can prompt each time to add to whitelist, but then the process itself becomes spam. Do you wish to add “buy-viagra-at-thebiggestviagrastoreintheworld.com@yahoo.com” to your whitelist? You get the picture. I’m sure there will be traditional filtering as well, but that still doesn’t solve the problem.

I think Wave has a chance, but it’s not a very high chance of success. There are a lot of barriers. Email is still the ultimate API for it’s ease of use and implementation. Email didn’t survive for so long because there was nobody willing to build something better. Email survived because it became the standard and worked in virtually all situations. It was simple enough for users and implementers alike.

I think it’s much more likely that concepts from Wave will end up elsewhere, rather than Wave replace email. Because of that, I’d call it a disruptive innovation.

Capturing User Innovation

Building a new product is always fun. You draft ideas, generate wireframes, mockups, prototypes, you build your app, you tweak it, you release it. In the case of software and web applications you also get to update it and make it better. If it’s hardware, you work on a 2nd revision to be sold a year later to people who didn’t adopt early (jab at early adopters).

One of the most interesting things is how users actually use the product you make, if they use it at all. Do they use it a little or a lot? Do they use it as intended? Do they find things missing? To robust for their taste? Or do they just find uses and modifications that all the engineers involved never in a million years would have contemplated?

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Attach Orbiter Here

Attach Orbiter Here Note: Black Side Down

Attach Orbiter Here
Note: Black Side Down

NASA is known as a pretty bureaucratic organization with lots of CYA procedures. But this is just a great little joke hidden up above one of the Boeing 747’s used to ferry the Shuttles when they land somewhere other than Kennedy Space Center.

It’s not just software engineers embedding Easter eggs in their work.

[Via: Wikipedia]

The Muppets Turn The World Around

20090521_harry_belafonte_muppets_turn_the_world_around

Here’s a video of Harry Belafonte’s appearance on The Muppet Show. This is generally considered one of the more memorable episodes. He also did The Banana Boat Song but Turn the World Around seems to be the one that people most remember. According to Wikipedia it was reportedly one of Jim Henson’s favorites.

Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll revisit the Muppets with some more classic clips I find on the Internet. It’s a nice break from some of the more technical stuff found on this blog.

Godspeed Hubble

Hubble Released Atlantis STS 125

This video is the actual release of Hubble as well as the shuttle backing away from the Hubble telescope. It is best watched in HQ and Full Screen. It’s slightly shaky at times and a little long, but it’s got some great shots of Hubble up close. The Big Picture Blog also has a great set of pictures from the mission.

Humans likely will never again approach Hubble. At some point in the future a robotic mission will likely attach to the newly installed Soft Capture Mechanism and safely de-orbit Hubble guiding it into the Pacific away from any humans. That’s not likely until at least 2014, hopefully longer. Hubble has already outlived it’s original life expectancy thanks to previous shuttle visits. With the latest servicing hopefully there are still some great years ahead.

[Via: Bad Astronomy]

The Programmer, Like The Poet

So poetic in itself…

The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.

– Fredrick P. Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month (Ch. 1)

Theora Improvements

I mentioned back in January that there was a push to improve open video, something I think is very important for the future of the web. Chris Blizzard pointed to a recent Theora update which includes screenshots of the progress that has been made. It’s very impressive to actually see. Even more impressive is the mention that it’s using the “same encoder parameters, equal bitrates”. This isn’t just turning up the bitrate in an attempt to improve quality.

Since these improvements are in the encoder rather than the format, or the playback library that means existing Theora users, as well as all Firefox 3.5 users will be benefiting from the work already done, as well as work done in the future without needed continued software updates, though I bet even playback will get some improvements over time.

Even better is that open video is free unlike most other formats out there.

Chromium’s WebKit Fork Is No More

This is very cool news for both WebKit sand Chromium. Chromium will no longer use a forked version of WebKit. This will mean more contributions directly to WebKit and a more current Chromium.

I wish all browser vendors could agree and sync engines a bit more so that Safari/Chrome would ship the same version of WebKit rather than stagger based on their own release schedule. Same for Mozilla/Flock etc. While very difficult in many respects it would make it much easier on web developers to have less products out there to test against. I think it’s unlikely to happen, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be convenient. Some Web Developer bias speaking here.

[Via: Tony Chang]