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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.

tokbox

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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.

tokbox 2

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.

  1. Arnie Widdowson
    September 24, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    My prediction is that wave will not be the collaborative platform of the future. It will be popular and a buzz filled curiosity, but the future lies in graphical whiteboards with GUI's, rich media and webcams. Applications for use in whiteboards will provide (via GUI's) acres of organized space for media rich collaborative development ( and a new class of programming). Further, as design time occurs at run time, collaborative application development -in situ- will be possible. Wave as the transport level maybe, but not the presentation.

  2. Mamainak
    September 13, 2009 at 5:21 am

    I saw that Digsby uses TokBox and while I talked to my friend on facebook (via Digsby) she could see my webcam - I still don't know how! (she didn't use Digsby...)

  3. admkenshin
    September 11, 2009 at 5:24 am

    You are missing one very important thing however... If you use Etherpad, all those you communicate with must use it as well. It's not an open standard. Google Wave is, in fact, a third party client server implementation is already available. With wave, Google users can chat with Yahoo! Wave users, and perhaps even MS MicroWave (:D), unless MS decides to make their own standard again. It will truly be a possible replacement for the venerated email.

  4. andrei
    September 10, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    No sort of desktop sharing, i guess...?
    It is nice to highlight something together with my team, but what i would really use is a way to show what i am doing on my PC or look at theirs (like NetMeeting or web services like Webex)

  5. Debbie
    September 8, 2009 at 9:17 am

    I used tokbox to do 4 2-hour presentations to business clients about 3 months ago. The basic video conferencing function worked great. The Slideshare integration worked well enough, with minor glitches. The Youtube integration worked, except when it didn't - which in my experience meant that 3 of the 10 videos I tried to show across all 4 conferences didn't play. I can't complain about something that's free, but I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending tokbox for anything really important unless they've made some major improvements in reliability in the past couple of months.

  6. Blake Elias
    September 8, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Wow, these apps look great! Etherpad seems to add the most value here since IM and video chat already exist, albeit in a slightly less convenient form than Tokbox.

    I would hardly say that they do all that Google Wave is supposed to do: you would be able to check your inbox for newly updated waves, while in Etherpad I don't see a way to do that. Anybody would be able to start a Wave with anyone else, but in Etherpad they either have to be allowed access to your team site with an account or password, otherwise it would all be on a public URL. And, of course, how would the person you want to talk with know what URL to go to?...you have to email or IM it to them. Google Wave is supposed to replace email and push the messages to people.

    But for small/medium projects with a clearly defined group of participants, this is a great replacement for email/IM/wiki.

    Finally, Tokbox looks great when used with Etherpad, but Google Wave is supposed to integrate the multimedia as well. Here the video is separate from the "pad".

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