Amidst all of the coverage of Google Wave this week, I have not seen mention of its significance for software application distribution. In short, waves come with optional code content (like attachments) that run inline with the user’s approval. The first time a user sees an extension or robot connected to a wave, they “install” or grant access to the application in order to experience the complete message. This distribution mechanism is a game changing new way to acquire customers.
There were many things about the Wave demonstration (which I was lucky to see in person) that made my jaw drop. I was very impressed. As an application developer, it is the image of a message with a chain of puzzle pieces (uninstalled apps) on the end that really sticks with me.
I see two paradigms of discovery at play on the Web. First, is the older “world is flat” model where everyone has access to everything (often anonymously), and Web sites are discovered primarily through search. The power of the “flat” model is demonstrated in Google search, Craigslist/Ebay, and Wikipedia.
The newer model is the social media model, where everything on the Web is discovered via your friends (AKA your social graph). Where the flat model makes everything more digital (connectivity and free replication flatten markets), the social media model is makes the Web more human like by making real world interactions more efficient. Facebook is the most successful example of using your social graph to filter the Web.
When you have a product you are trying to tell people about, the primary paths in the old world were SEO and advertising/marketing. In the new world, electronic word of mouth is the goal. Annoyingly proliferous Facebook apps and armies of Twitter marketers are the evidence of this new shift.
My two models above are actually an over-simplification. In the old world, we had email, and many people discovered Web sites and participated in social “apps” like petitions or chain letters. Google Wave amplifies this phenomena the way social networks amplified it. Whether the embedded software entails rendering a map, playing a game, or watching a video – users now will be able to “become a customer” inside the message. In the same way it makes collaboration 10x easier, Google Wave makes the delivery of software 10x easier. For applications that naturally involve collaboration, new customers will come easy. For others, it will be critical to understand this rich distribution model to keep their code and content in front of customers.