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The Rise and Fall of Google Wave

(In this guest post, Markus Hegi, partially-Pune-based CEO of partially-Pune-based company Colayer, laments the death of Google Wave, and points out that the concept behind the Wave is right. Google should have re-launched a new, improved Wave, he feels, because the world does need a paradigm shift in business communications. This article is a shortened & modified version of a post published on ex.colayer.com)

Google Wave

Google's revolutionary new communication and collaboration platform Wave is dead. Did it deserve to die? Markus Hegi thinks not. He believes that sooner or later, the world needs a Wave like system. Image via Wikipedia

3 days ago, Google announced that it would stop the development of Wave and would stop supporting it by the end of the year. Even though the buzz about Wave and the (visible) progress of Wave was low for the last few months, the shut down is surprising: I would have expected a re-launch, a change of the architecture, integration with gmail – anything, but not a complete halt – The concept behind Wave is right and ahead of its time – and Google could have been a leading player in this space!

When I looked at Wave for the first time right after the announcement one year ago, it struck me, how similar the concepts were to what we were working for years with Colayer. I started Colayer in 99 – suffering myself the mess of email communication. As a travelling business consultant I was convinced, that this can not be the way we will communicate in future! This is fundamentally wrong! – I mean: the basic idea of SENDING information on the web is wrong! (You GO TO and ARE ON Facebook, twitter, yahoo – you don’t ‘download’ it.) Google Wave addresses exactly these same issues.

We were excited to see, what approach Google would take to implement the new paradigm of online communication – But also realized quickly, that this product in this stage would not be usable for 3 main reasons:

  1. The Technical Architecture was too heavy and complex
  2. The Operability – The way to operate the tool was limiting
  3. The Notification – the way the users would be notified about updates in their many waves.

If you would use this product in a real world scenario with heavy communication, it would not work! – But Wave was at its very start. We thought Google would quickly realize the problems and implement solutions for it – and with their market power, Google would be able to initiate the paradigm shift in online communication.

But after the Wave launch, it seemed that innovation stopped. Yes, there was development, improvements & many extensions were released. But the above 3 problems were not addressed. They couldn’t be solved through improvements or extensions, but needed fundamental shifts in the product design – which never happened. And as many users seemed to loose patience too, Google pulled the plug for poor user adoption after only one year.

What went wrong? – Gartner has a valid point: “Startup innovation” has simply no place in a large enterprise software company. Well, this is not exactly what Gartner writes, but this is essentially the meaning: Either you are in the business of breaking & paradigm shifting innovation (Startups), or you are serving a large base of enterprise customers – Both together is almost impossible, because there is no breaking innovation, without messing up with your customers. After Wave was launched, even though it was still tagged as ‘beta’, the team could not just say to its 100’000 users: “you know, we just realized that the architecture has a fundamental problem – lets start it all over again …!” – which we, in a small company did several times …

Maybe another problem of Wave was, that Google choose the wrong market: Wave was intended for the broad consumer market, as well as for enterprises – But the paradigm shift happens elsewhere first: If you observe today’s kids and young nerds, you can imagine, how the next generation of businesses will use online communication: Email for them is ‘lame’ and just used for communication with outsiders, older people and the ‘conservative’ business world. Why would you need email anyway in a world of Facebook & Foursquare?

After 10 years, we are still in the beginning of the massive paradigm shift of online communication. I am eager to see, who will join the journey next!

About Google Wave

Wave is a web application for real-time communication and collaboration.

(See one of the most popular videos explaining the basic concepts of Wave)

Announced in May 2009, Wave attracted a lot of attention for a couple of months. The project was stopped by Google after just a little more than one year for poor user adoption.

About the author – Markus Hegi

Markus Hegi founded Metalayer (now renamed to Colayer) 10 years ago. The Colayer platform is a software technology to create collaborative web sites.

Colayer is a Swiss-Indian company with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland and development center in Pune, India. Markus ‘commutes’ since 10 years between Zurich and Pune and spends almost half of his time here in Pune. See his linked-in profile, or follow him on twitter.

About Colayer vs Google Wave:

See an overview of articles about Colayer vs Google Wave on colayer.com.

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Comments

14 responses to The Rise and Fall of Google Wave

  1. hi Markus,

    I too had been trying to figure out why the wave concept has not capitalised the way it had been expected.

    Its one of the best way for collaboration, i’ve experienced, but seems that the wave is still couldn’t make its marks as of now.

    How extensively ‘ve u used it?

  2. I think Google Wave failed primarily because of the invite based scheme for users. It did work well for Gmail because mail was already accepted protocol and the other party needn’t supposed to have the same service running as well.

  3. Classification of a success or a failure is a function of success metrics. And its in the expectations where wave perhaps went wrong. And I agree as stated here that inability to continue to innovate was a big failing.

    Having said that, Wave is no paradigm shift. Email was. Facebook is. Wave was a continuation of and an implementation of ideas that stemmed from a number of existing channels that relate to collaboration with a much stronger realtime twist on it eg. IRC, Whiteboards, Mindmaps etc.

    The utility of the wave is a function of the context. A good example is Mindmaps. Just because everyone in the world doesn’t use mindmaps and a mindmap service doesn’t have 250 million users doesn’t mean mindmaps have failed. They just have a limited applicability. And they do not lend themselves to casual usage – instead requiring a focused, dedicated attention and even more so in case of a real time collaboration channel. If one expects mindmaps to be universally successful thats an issue in expectation setting. If one assumes Mindmaps is a paradigm shift then that is overstating the case. Ditto with wave.

    In hindsight the user interface of wave was not good enough. In hindsight the positioning of wave and its utility, was perhaps very poorly conducted. But the learnings of hindsight could’ve been channeled into the future – it shall be a shame that google chose not to do that. But thats a business decision and probably the expected revenues were simply not large enough for a google to continue to fund its development.

    Will we find embedded real time collaboration capabilities threading their way into other tools such as (a completely wild thought) Skype or Mindmaps or a future version of IRC ? Yes. But will that happen into other tools such as twitter or facebook – I suspect not, at least not universally. The basic distinction was synchronicity. Wave when used asynchronously was “on the whole” no better than email or threaded comments. Thats why it needs to be looked at in a context of specific use cases which require synchronous coordination and communication such as conference calls supported with real time evolutionary documentation or distributed mindmap authoring. Thats where wave ideas will continue to succeed. That may end up being the legacy of wave.

  4. Aditya Laghate says:

    Wave did not go through, only because, it was essentially email v 2.0, and did not integrate with regular email v 1.0

    i had to log on to gmail.com for my email and wave.google.com to check my waves! Had they integrated it like buzz, I am sure it would have caught on!!

  5. I believe they showed it to the world at a very, very early stage. People are used to easy things and Google Wave at the early stage of presentation was for the more tech savy.

    At my company we have been using Wave for the last year and have been organizing everything like a breeze. We haven’t exchanged mails in over 9 months and found that the Google Wave project was and is the BEST way to communicate and collaborate on line.

    This is something that Google unfortunately didn’t promote properly. They promoted sharing blog pics and reading your twitter timeline in the wave… Boring, stupid useless things! What the Wave is really about is PROJECT MANAGEMENT! It is about MAKING THINGS HAPPEN!

    I have personally voted at http://www.savegooglewave.com/#save-wave to save the Wave. I even posted a posterous about it at http://spyrospapaspyropoulos.posterous.com/save-google-wave. If we all try and vote to save the project, then maybe Google will rethink.

    As far as notifications are concerned, their notification system was fine. What easier way than to receive an email in your mailbox. It also has the option of choosing between your validated emails. If the Google Wave users have ever spent 1 minute to validate their other mails, they could get Wave to send them their notifications there.

    But as with many things, people are lazy and demanding. That is why fantastic projects like the Wave die.

    Every vote counts.

  6. Markus Hegi says:

    Aditya –
    Well, Buzz seems not the very big success neither … But you are right: For Wave, an email integration would have been a key (but not only) factor for success.

    And not just a simple single sign-on solution (log into gmail & see your new wave updates), but also contextualized mails: The possibility (just like in Colayer), to send email messages from anywhere within a wave & receive the answers back in that very same context – so that ‘Waving’ is possible between the two worlds, between wavers & emailers! -

  7. Markus Hegi says:

    @Avishek
    Yes, I tried Wave extensively with my friends & within the company –

    But Colayer is a very similar software as wave was – So we were both: potential competitors & partners.

    All in all, we considered the opportunity of Wave for Colayer much higher than the thread and planned for an integration of the two products.

    So, I live since 10 years in an (almost) email free world – I do use emails with ‘the outside world’, but within Colayer (see comment Aditya) -

  8. Markus Hegi says:

    @Pratik
    I hear both opinion: yours, as well as “the brilliant thing about the marketing of Wave was the invite system!” –
    I tend to believe rather this second opinion: the hype was very much fueled by the fact, that “only a privileged few” could access it in the beginning – see also the last words of the most popular Wave video: “… soar. If I could only get an invite – that’d be great. So, um, come on Google, give me an invite :) please!” …

    And: after Sept 09, there were plenty invites around, so anyone could get one …

  9. Markus Hegi says:

    @dhananjay
    Many thanks for your extensive comment –
    You write: “that’s a business decision and probably the expected revenues were simply not large enough …” – Well, that is on the lines of Gartner – but remember? Once upon a time, Google was more driven by innovation than by revenues … But that model may not fit for a large IT company serving large customers …

    And yes, I am convinced too, that Wave concepts will live on & appear in other form in other products -

  10. Markus Hegi says:

    Spyros – #savegooglewave?
    The big question is, how this would be possible? I see only 3 ways:

    1) If Google would continue the Wave project – but would the needed innovation happen then?
    2) For the speed of product innovation, it may be better, if Wave is developed by a small company “Wave Inc” – either as spin-off of Google, or if the Wave team would leave Google and create their own company –
    3) Or Wave goes the open source community way –
    What do you think?

  11. Google wave when it was showcased to the world did get a “Cool” response from almost everybody who saw it. And it was mostly showcased to the tech community. Real life business users are not always technical and they need more simpler and practical tools.

    Wave seemed impractical as early as the second or third time use. We started to use wave in the last company i worked but did not go beyond a few waves, most of us found it impractical in a business setup.
    There was too much packed into it and way too much to learn and understand.

    Wave failed to KISS (keepitsimplesilly)

  12. I can’t mention names, but a Google Wave engineer told me that they all are dumbfounded by this decision and they are amongst the 1st to vote at Save Google Wave.

    I don’t know what will happen, but somebody will surely pick it up, polish it and make a ton of money selling it the right way. Then Google will buy that company and re launch it.

    Now there is an idea!

  13. wavesurfer says:

    Google wave,facebook,foresquare are the ways of future communication. Its just matter of time (unknown:) email is tedious way of communication.But everyone is used to it as its very easy to use & understand ;)

  14. ak_ says:

    I was never an active user of google wave. It was an interesting concept but it wasn’t properly marketed and targetted to consumers.

    Either ways with the advent of Facebook, Twitter I have stopped sending personal emails. Its only in office where I need to send/receive emails.

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