Google has unveiled a new-age communication and collaboration tool developed by the same team that brought us Google Maps.

Available today to a limited number of developers, the tool which is called Google Wave, is an online application. The tool, which was first under the codename of Walkabout, combines popular features from across the web — feeds, shared documents, photo galleries, etc. — to redefine online communication.

Here's how it works: In Google Wave you create a wave and add people to it. Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web, said Lars Rasmussen, a software engineering manager at Google in a blog post.

They can insert a reply or edit the wave directly. It's concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave. That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content — it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use 'playback' to rewind the wave and see how it evolved.

Google Wave has three layers: the product, the platform, and the protocol, Rasmussen said. Here is an explanation of them:

• The Google Wave product (available as a developer preview) is the web application people will use to access and edit waves. It's an HTML 5 app, built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions like desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).

• Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.

• The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the live concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone's Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave.

On the next page is a video Google released on its YouTube channel that explains the concept behind Google Wave: