Google Wave: Can’t Say I Didn’t See This Coming.

I still remember sitting down to the hour long Google Wave introduction video almost a year and a half ago. I was stuck at work after hours monitoring a transition process and found the video as something to have in the background whilst my mind wandered off. Towards the end though I had completely forgotten about what I was doing and was transfixed on this new Google tech that could bring about a new world of communication. It also spoke to the developer inside me who had been thinking about information aggregation for a long time and subsequently I blogged about my excitement a day later.

Four months later saw me finally get an invite to the service along with a good number of my techie friends. I was enamoured with itinitially seeing it as a curiosity that defied social conventions and served as a great thought experiment about how we humans communicate. It was also a social focal point for a while, enabling me to reconnect with some friends who I wasn’t able to catch through other communication mediums. Still the interest only lasted about a fortnight before people started to drop off it and a month later it was rare to find anyone else on the service, let alone them being responsive to my waves.

Three months after that post Google released their Twitter competitor Buzz. At the time of its release I commentedon how this would kill any remaining interest in Wave because it would be seen as a competing communication method. Buzz had the integration upper hand as it was provided along side Gmail, something which wave didn’t (and couldn’t) have. I had logged into wave spuriously since then, usually to grant someone an invite or to see if there was anything new on the service. Nothing had changed since my last encounter with the service, it lied there abandoned and forgotten.

Yesterday saw Google acknowledge that user adoption hadn’t been great and that they weren’t going to continue developing Wave as a standalone product:

Google is halting development on Wave, its web app for real-time communication.

“We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product,” Google Senior Vice President of Operations Urs Hölzle said on the official Google Blog Wednesday.

The company cites slow user adoption as the reason for its decision. Google will continue to support Wave through the end of the year, at which point the product will be phased out.

Honestly the slow rate of adoption didn’t really surprise me as Wave was virtually unknown to anyone outside the tech industry. It’s quite reminiscent of many open source endeavours, a solid product with great vision but not entirely meant for widespread adoption. The reason that email, IM and now services like Twitter have taken off is arguably their simplicity and wide appeal. Wave on the other hand had little familiarity with non-tech users and struggled to bring them on board. Additionally it barely managed to garner the press attention required to gain the critical mass of users to make it a viable means of communication. Unfortunately that was the beginning of the end for the Wave product and Google has finally decided to put it out to pasture.

That’s not to say that all the work on Wave is for naught. While it was quite ambitious to think that Wave could replace Google Docs and some of Google’s other web services the augmentations that it provided will eventually make their way into those services. The underlying server technology will more than likely be open sourced, leading to the possibility that some keen developers might make the Wave idea into a viable product some day. There’s also the possibility that some of Wave’s innovations will work their way into Google’s other services as well, providing more features and hopefully more opportunities for real time integration with third party services.

Trying to rethink certain paradigms is always fraught with risk, especially ones as ingrained as the way we communicate on the web. Whilst it was a noble idea to reinvent email as if it was designed today the fact of the matter is that email and the other traditional forms of electronic communication work and replacing them outright is fighting several decades of incumbency. As with all great innovations though we will see Wave’s influence in many of Google’s future products and whilst it’s not the communication revolution I once said it would be we will still be using Wave for years to come, even if we don’t realise it.

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