Sunday, May 31, 2009

Business Opportunities around Google Wave

How could you build a business with the newly announced Google Wave?

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 Services

Companies 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.

Rating:

Enterprise Wave

The 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.

Rating:

Extensions

There 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.

Rating:

Hosting

Since 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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Technical Look at Google Wave

When I visited Stephanie and Douwe in Sydney last year, they would not tell me what they were working on, to the point of paranoia. When visiting Google's Sydney office, Stephanie made sure I couldn't see any of the screens. I eventually came up with the hypothesis that they were going to replace one of Google's central products - one of Google Search, Apps, or Gmail. Turns out, I wasn't far from reality: Google Wave seems to want to unite the last two.

This is a grand and ambitious plan. From a quick look at the Draft Protocol, here's the rough game plan:
  1. the traditional MIME-based email structure is replaced by wavelets (an atomic message, with multiple documents inside) and operations (a change delta between versions of a message).

  2. SMTP is replaced with XMPP.

  3. IMAP is replaced with "Request elements" against the Google Wave server.

Is this better than the MIME + SMTP + IMAP? I think so.

Here are some big open questions that I'd like to know an answer to:
  1. What's the migration path to Google Wave? This is clearly aimed at replacing email as your main tool. If I'm currently using Exchange or Google Apps for my domain, is there going to be an easy way to switch over to Google Wave?

  2. Authentication across servers: Can any server publish to any other server? How can a client or a server access waves on another server and restrict access to validated users?

  3. Could this architecture worsen the spam problem: Can't spammers just publish a bunch of waves to another server? I'm not familiar enough with XMPP to answer this.

Lastly, I'm very happy that with reMail, I'm not stepping on Stephanie's and Douwe's toes, but working on the orthogonal problems of better priorization, better search, and better views of your email data. Good.

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Update: As for my points about spam and authentication: In IM-like fashion, users need to be added and removed from a wave by someone already a part of the wave (see the addparticipant / removeparticipant calls in the spec). Thus, spammers won't be able to spam existing waves. I'm still not sure who can initiate waves and invite participants - anyone from any server? Or is there some spam protection mechanism I'm missing?

Update 2: Maybe a better way to look at this is taking email, which people have been abusing as document transmission + versioning + IM, and rolling those features into the core protocol. Instead of messages, we create a document and send around deltas of it. Just like SVN, but with better views and features.

Update 3: I need to look through my inbox and figure out what % of conversations and use cases this would solve for me. A lot of my email is external notificiations ("someone sent you a Facebook message"), which Google Wave wouldn't improve. Google Wave's use case is clearly collaborative work and decision making.

Update 4: I just had a Scary Thought. Maybe the masterplan isn't to migrate everyone over from email, but to create a parallel world of Google Wave. Ugh. Another inbox to check, in addition to email + RSS + twitter + Facebook + bug tracker + Hacker News.

Update 5: Just saw this comment on HN. A pretty good summary, if a bit too negative.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I need your IMAP Settings!

I'm planning to build an "IMAP Settings Directory" for an upcoming version of reMail Search, and I need your help!

Right now when you sign up for reMail Search, you need to manually enter your server settings. That means not only looking them up on your computer. You also need to type it in on the iPhone's small keyboard. That's painful.

In the next version of reMail Search, I want to take a different approach: You tell me who your email provider is, and reMail will pre-fill IMAP settings for you. I want to have this for the top 20 hosted email providers at a minimum.

If you're using a third-party provider to host your email, please leave a comment on this post with a link to their IMAP configuration page. This crowdsourced approach worked well for an Outlook-related request I had last year, so I'm going to try it again.

Here are two examples for what I want:
  1. Mailtrust IMAP configuration page
  2. Gmail IMAP configuration page

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

reMail Search - New Version: V1.4

Users of reMail Search: Please upgrade to the new version, V1.4! It's available on the App Store starting today.

The new version fixes a couple of minor bugs and improves autocompletion speed.

On your iPhone, click on the "App Store" icon, click "Updates", and choose "reMail Search".

P.S.: In case you were wondering: We didn't skip any version numbers. Versions 1.0-1.2 were version numbers we used while testing the application inside our YCombinator batch.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

reMail Search Status Update 2

There are lots of people waiting to get into the reMail Search Beta, and you might be wondering why you haven't gotten your invite yet.

I've been working on fixing problems that early users have been reporting, one by one. I've also uploaded a new version of the application into the App Store approval process - it fixes some small issues and speeds up autocompletion and query parsing significantly from the first version. Let's hope it will make it will get approved quickly!

And during all of this, at a strategically bad time, I've moved into a new apartment, but more about that later ...

I've been sending out small batches of invites every day or so. I'll keep you posted on reMail Search right here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

reMail Search Status Update

The people want powerful full-text email search on their iPhone.*

They want it so badly, in fact, that our servers were running red hot yesterday with signups and new users - many more than I had expected.

I turned off new signups for now. For the days, I'll be working on adding more servers, storage capacity, and resolving some bottlenecks in our code. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to add more accounts by Thursday morning Pacific time, but I can't quite guarantee it.

Right now, if you download reMail Search off the iTunes Store, you'll see a screen saying that we disabled signups for now. It will also ask you to join our waiting list. I'll send out notifications to people on the waiting list once I've added more capacity, so please do add yourself. I've also included a few questions about your email behavior to better understand our users.

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Launching reMail Search

Quick, what's the most annoying thing about the iPhone's email client? Yup, it's the lack of email search. That's why we built reMail Search for the iPhone. And we're launching a first version today.

reMail Search doesn't just search the subject, to, and from - it's full-text search of your email, on your device.

Even better, reMail Search works offline! You can search your email when you're driving through a tunnel or when you're in a plane. Our server syncs emails you're likely to search for on the device, and you can search them even when you're offline. When you're offline, you can search your entire email archives - with older search results coming from reMail's server.


We've built a lot of smart search features into reMail Search. The feature I use the most is initials search. Typing on the little screen is hard, and the most common type of search query is for people's names. Let's say I need to find an email from Jessica Livingston at YCombinator - I type in "JL", and reMail will suggest a search for "Jessica Livingston".

Sometimes you'll want to do advanced searches from your phone. Stuff like "Only search for everything from Paul that I got last week". If you type in "paul inbox last week", reMail will detect that "paul" is a person restriction, "inbox" is a folder, and "last week" is a time restriction. No advanced search dialogs or typing search operators.

For more, check out our product website at www.remail.com.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gmail T-Shirt, an Artifact from the Past

I'm moving to a new apartment, and am busy packing up my stuff. Somewhere deep in my clothes drawer, I found this washed-out gem. Here's the front:



And here's the back:



I love this T-Shirt because it's a good reminder of just how big of a deal 1 GB of free storage was 5 years ago. Also, I did get a gig with Google in 2004, and my start date was, I believe, Apr 17 - close enough. I thought I'd lost this shirt in my last move - happy to have it back.