At Google I/O 2009 the crowds cheered as Google unveiled what could have been the future of communication Google Wave. Today Google is pulling the plug on this amazing project as they have not managed to garner the kind of adoption they might have wanted. Google Wave was an ambitious project, the simplest way to describe it is, a modern take on communication, email as it would be had it been invented today.
Unfortunately, when it comes to something as basic as the very means people communicate in, things take time to change. Email wasn’t adopted overnight, not even over two years. As email became increasingly popular, there were still services which allowed people to send email via fax or vice versa, there were even services which allowed one to send email to specific addresses where they would printed and snail-mailed to the recipient.
Google had a great vision for Wave which tried to incorporate all forms of communicative activities that people tend to perform over the internet, email, instant messaging, collaboration on documents and other projects, gaming, etc. How do you integrate all this though, without making the system overly complicated to use? What we ended up with was a rich text capable, real-time, open communication mechanism and protocol which supported extensions. Google Wave tried to be everything at once, and was never simple enough to use for any. Google tried to promote it as too many thing at once, and barely ever to the larger crowd which actually uses GMail.
For those who used Google Docs, the added collaboration facility of Google Wave did not make up for the lack document composition features and the poorer composition interface. For those who used email, Google Wave did not have as many people they could communicate with, nor was it compatible with their current means of communication. Instant messaging with Wave suffered from similar problems.
Using Wave was like taking a trip to a city where few people understood your language, and few understood yours. It didn’t matter if it was better. Language itself has evolved over a long time, and has perhaps become overly complicated. Some people have actually gone through the trouble to create entirely new languages which aim to simplify language structure, usage and vocabulary. Take a language such as Esperanto, it has few speakers despite being better and easier than many current languages, since completely switching to a new language or communication medium is never easy, and requires significant effort and investment..
Using Wave meant you had to use an additional means of communication, since it was never ready to replace anything, so why would people switch? After a point the burden of using an additional means of communication just to reach a small group of people you know wasn’t worth the features it came with.
What Google should have done instead is to make it easier for people to move to Wave. Not just with email notification, but by integrating email directly in Wave. Many more people would have been ready to switch to Wave if they could have used to to send and receive email, while also getting the improved features while communicating with other with Google accounts. We believe that Google should have integrated Wave more with email, such that it could gracefully degrade when dealing with non-Wave accounts while offering enhances features to the rest, more importantly we believe they are giving up too fast.
While Google Wave will only be maintained for this year, Wave’s new features will live on in other Google products. The context sensitive spelling check would make a great addition to Google Docs, and we can already see Wave-like collaboration features available in Docs. Of course since Google Wave was open source, other servers and services providing the functionality can live on, and other companies can continue developing where Google will leave off.