Wave is like email mixed with collaborative editing and instant messaging. It's conceivable that the Google Wave paradigm will replace today's group collaboration tools with something less fractured (everything's in one place), universal (document equals IM equals email) and more centralized (one application instead of many). Heck, it could even replace email itself.
What's most exciting, though, is that Google Wave will be open source. Unlike with Google Apps, you'll be able to look inside the box, deploy your own servers, customize, and extend.
Let's say that Google will be able to pull this off, and soon after launch, Wave has millions of users. What business opportunities exist around Google Wave? What can startups, software vendors, and consulting companies offer that could be profitable? Here are a couple of ideas,. I've rated them 1-5 stars based on how promising I think they are.
Migration Tools and ServicesCompanies today use Outlook and Exchange. If Wave is good enough, some of today's users of Outlook, Exchange, Notes, or even SharePoint could be convinced to switch, either in whole or just for a part of their workflow. Third parties could offer migration tools and services that allow companies to get started and port their existing data - Terabytes of emails and documents - into Google Wave.
Verdict: I think this could be a reasonable play for small service providers and ISVs, provided that Wave is convincing enough for companies. For highly customized Exchange installations, there's no one-size-fits-all approach, so there's a lot of room for service providers and tailored solutions. No billion dollar opportunity here, though.
Enterprise WaveThe key to making organizations switch to Google Wave is to make it sufficiently full featured for enterprise use. In particular, it's hard to see anyone switching from Outlook without tightly integrated group calendaring, task lists, and mobile sync. Since Wave is open source, you could add those in and sell an "enterprise version" of Wave under your own brand.
Verdict: This could work. Google doesn't have a stellar record in catering to enterprises. Compare the measly 10 million hosted Gmail accounts with the 40 million paid Zimbra accounts out there. Google is better with consumers, and might leave a lot of room for an enterprise version of Wave built by a third party. Played well, this is a billion-dollar opportunity.
ExtensionsThere is no shortage of plugins, extensions, and add-ins to Microsoft Outlook: Think Xobni, Gwabbit, ClearContext, and many little helpers that can you extract attachments, schedule emails, or remove duplicate contacts. Some of these tools are highly profitable paid extensions, and it's conceivable that you could build and charge for extensions that add useful features to Google Wave.
Verdict: As a business, this isn't promising, at least for the next few years. What makes building Outlook plugins so attractive is the size of the target market - 400 million users. It took Gmail 5 years to get to around 150 million users, and I expect the adoption curve to be similar for Google Wave. It's conceivable that Google Wave will one day add a "Google Wave App Store", where users can buy extensions and themes for cash. If that happens, this becomes much more exciting.
HostingSince Google Wave is open source, you can host the server on your own hardware. There's no shortage of hosted Exchange providers - a quick search will give you many offerings that will give you an exchange account for $9.95 a month. Similarly, you could host Google Wave accounts for a fee - similar to Acme Wave in the keynote demo (1h:06).
Verdict: Could this work? It depends on what Google will offer for free. My guess is that Google Wave will start as another piece of Google Apps, where it's $50/user account/year, with plenty of space. In hosting, Google has economies of scale - noone runs more servers more cheaply. So forget beating Google on price. Thus, the target market is be reduced to the segment of users that wouldn't trust Google with their data. That segment is pretty small.
Wave as a Feature
I imagine that this will be the most common type of use for Google Wave. Once it's released, websites will replace systems for commenting and user-generated content (e.g. restaurant reviews) with Google Wave. I imagine this to be much like the Google Wave inside Orkut, shown in the keynote at 0h:24. Integrating Google Wave can be useful for certain type of sites - think Yelp, Foodoro, Divvyshot, or RetailMeNot.
Verdict: This is not a business by itself. It's something that could improve your existing offering, much like using Disqus will increase the quality and number of comments on your page. I can imagine scenarios in which having Google Wave on your site would improve its quality, thus leading more traffic, which in turn gives you more Pro account signups, ad clicks, etc.
Forgot Something?As you may have noticed, most of my examples in here come from my understanding of the Microsoft Exchange and Gmail ecosystems. Due to my email-heavy background, I've approached this from an email-centric perspective.
You may also have noticed that there's no five-star idea so far. If you have one, let me know or leave a comment below!
Update: Seems like I forgot one very promising idea: An App Store for Google Wave