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Although Google Wave has got a lot of media attention, here’s the executive overview if you’ve missed the beat. Google Wave is both a communication and computing platform developed as a replacement to a whole array of web-based services: email, IM, wiki, social networking.

One of its most important features is the seamless integration of real-time collaboration tools. It’s actually fairly complicated to explain what it is, because a proper definition would have to encompass both developer and consumer aspects of the product and we have yet to receive invitations to the service.

I don’t particularly appreciate sensationalistic titles, either in print or online media but today’s title accurately reflects the content of this article. By adding support for Etherpad inside their already comprehensive communication web app, Tokbox just created the ultimate online communication tool.

Let’s take it one step at a time and take a look at Tokbox, a San Francisco start-up with some very smart people at the helm;  Tokbox is an online video chat application that implements basically all the functionality of Skype minus the mobile and landline phone support.

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It’s free, it’s got an awesome interface and supports more concurrent video streams than your bandwidth can handle (more than 20 people in a conference call according to the Tokbox homepage). That alone is a great product, but there’s more; it’s got a multi-platform chat client, just type in your Yahoo!, GTalk, MSN or AOL credentials; free video ‘voicemail’ and integration with all the web services you might want: inline YouTube videos, Picasa & Flickr picture slideshows, Slideshare presentations, and notifications for MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

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You’d expect a feature-rich application like that to be destined for your local hard drive, but the fact is that it works amazingly well online. If someone paid attention to past reviews of web applications – it’s these developers. Not only is the interface simple and intuitive, it’s also got power – detailed privacy settings, an Adobe Flash helper for guiding the user to the necessary steps to enable the webcam and microphone and a task list that takes the guessing out and walks the user through the available features.

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Etherpad on the other hand, was created by a group of former Google employees with some support from Y Combinator and a couple of fellows from FriendFeed. It started out as “what might be both the ugliest and most useful group productivity app”, at  least that’s how  TechCrunch put it back in November 2008.

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Now, Etherpad is all grown-up and its design, while it still remains rugged, is considerably improved. If you’ve seen the Google Wave demo, you’ll immediately catch the grip of Etherpad: collaborative online text editing, all happening live and with different color highlighting for each participant.

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Now imagine a video conference call with your friends, planning a vacation and writing down the itinerary; discussing features and design with a client; proofreading an article with your editor; or collaborating on a project with someone from school. That’s what this amazing web app duo achieves.

This functionality is basically what we all expect to see coming from Google Wave. Although you might think the opposite, these two start-ups already have a leg up compared to Google’s vertical solution; they already integrate with existing web services and user habits: pop in a Slideshare, a Flickr slideshow or integrate a chat window in Facebook. If these two have an Achilles heel, it’s the brand awareness and sheer number users Google has in its grasp. Until Google Wave proves me wrong – I’m declaring Tokbox+Etherpad the best web applications of the year.

Check out Tokbox and Etherpad, then remember to come back and share your impressions. For more cool reviews of web applications visit the category page.

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