What Killed Google Wave?
Some quick personal thoughts on the imminent demise of Google Wave.
Like many people, I was really excited by Google’s first presentation of Wave in May 2009. While I don’t work in business, academics are supposed to collaborate, and this seemed like a fabulous platform on which to develop projects from simple brainstormed ideas to finished papers, without the nagging problems of version control, where everyone seems to be working off different versions of the draft.
About two years ago I was involved with a group that was organising a conference. I set up a project management account on a free platform (do you think I can remember what it was?) and it worked pretty well until people realised that they could email drafts instead of just notifying the other with a link. Before long, the whole version problem was back. We really could have used Wave at that point.
So I was excited. The problem was, whether for genuine technical reason, or to prolong the hype, you couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal an invitation. The rarity of these coveted invitations did increase the hype for a time, with the lucky few attendees at various tech conferences taunting the rest of us with their treasure, and setting up bidding wars among their friends.
At last, one of my friends (co-author Nick, as it happens) drew the conference straw and I cajoled him into giving me one of the invites. But by now it was November, and the excitement was fading. Still, I had a sign-in, and eagerly started to find my way around the application.
That was when I discovered problem two: there’s not much you can do with collaborative software if you don’t have any collaborators. For the first couple of weeks the only contact I had on Wave was Nick, and it was easier to email him. Eventually we got a few more people involved, but few of them were as enthusiastic as me, and I found myself emailing them to tell them to get on the wave (OK, some times I had to walk down the hallway and knock on a teenager’s door—my range of contacts was limited).
By the time we had enough people on board to make it worthwhile, the interest had waned, and we got pulled back into doing things the old way on email. Nick, Lisa, and I used it once for the purpose it was designed for, when we formulated the moderation policy for this blog. But my records show the last time I used it was in March.
From hints I’ve heard on Twitter and elsewhere, I suspect that this was a common experience. Many people were saying “now that I’ve got it, what do I do with it?” This confusion, coupled with a frustration born out of the very slow release of invitations generated enough negativity to swamp the initial excitement of the release.
Staged releases are common in the industry: Pownce was rolled out slowly (although not as slowly as Wave), and that didn’t seem to affect its popularity, and in the end I think it was the developers inability to monetise the product that killed it, not anything to do with the release.
I’ll never know if it was technical issues that forced the slow rollout of Wave, or a terminally bad call from the marketing division who thought that leaving the punters begging was a way to keep the hype rolling. It’s a pity: occasionally I will find a use for Wave, and it won’t be there, although its demise won’t affect me drastically. Others are not so lucky, and I’ve already heard plaintive calls from people looking for an alternative.
Of course, I might be mistaking what I saw as “hype” for the usual sort of fanboy energy at the launch of any new toy (iPad, anyone?). But I can’t help thinking though: if the rollout had been faster to cash in on the excitement of the launch, it might have been a different story.
Update: corrected the very embarrassing misspelling in the first sentence!