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Google Wave meets conference calls, with Ribbit

Ribbit's extension for Google's next-gen messaging app shows how the walls between text and voice can fall.

Ribbit puts a conference bridge inside a Wave message. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

It's becoming clear that Google Wave, which is slowly emerging from closed beta, has potential to be much more than a text-messaging platform. As the telecommunications platform company Ribbit shows, and as does a frothy little videoconference app from 6 Rounds, Wave's architecture makes it a compelling platform for real-time streaming communication.

The Ribbit team recently showed me their prototype widget, which lets Wave users quickly set up a conference room inside a "wave" message on the service. Once you add the Ribbit conference widget to a wave, everyone in it becomes part of a potential voice chat. Users need to enter their phone numbers, which remain hidden from other users. Then anyone in the wave can call all the participants at once to start a conference. (Users can also call only particular people in the wave, if they wish.)

The cool thing about the Ribbit integration into Wave is how easy it is to get a conference going that's clearly related to a document (a wave) that a team is already working on. You also get a dashboard view of your conference where you can see who's on and who's not, and drop callers mid-stream.

Future additions to the service will include options to record calls and transcribe them -- for a fee perhaps.

6 Rounds is conceptually related to Ribbit, although with more of a focus on fun videoconferencing (with silly video effects and everything) and the sharing of YouTube videos. But the idea is the same: Within a de facto group on Wave, you can quickly add a conferencing widget to bring people into a conversation. See also Zorap from Demo, which is similar, although without a Wave widget.

It looks like both of these apps blend perfectly with the Wave experience, which is part e-mail, part IM, part groupware. They show how, in a modern communications system, the barriers between text and voice and video communication, and more interestingly between asynchronous and real-time communication, really do begin to dissolve.

What's not clear is how or if Google will integrate Google Voice into Wave. That's a big shoe that has yet to drop.

Click to see video demos of Ribbit, 6 Rounds, and other Google Wave extensions.