On Google Wave and “Failed” Experiments

August 5, 2010

Yesterday while I was on the air with Jeff and Leo recording TWiG, Google announced that they are halting development on Wave. The webapp will be available till the end of the year--with mechanisms to export your current wave data--and the code will remain open source.

As the author of the first user guide on Wave, I spent this morning doing interviews with tech journalists about what this all means. Here are some questions I got asked, and answers I offered.

What do you think about Google killing Wave?

I'm really disappointed. Wave is a tool I love and use daily, and this announcement makes Adam's and my user guide essentially a history book, an homage to a product that I believe was simply ahead of its time.

What did you love so much about Wave?

I loved Wave's ambition. From a purely technical perspective, Wave pushed the edge of what was possible in a browser; it promised a new federated communication system; it's open source and uses an open protocol; it's a platform that developers could customize and extend with gadgets and robots. From a user perspective, it had the guts to try to introduce a whole new paradigm of communication, one that combined document collaboration and messaging into a single interface. It demonstrated real-time collaboration in a browser the way no other webapp had yet. It made group discussions/brainstorming/decisions much, much easier.

I respect any product that aims as high as Wave did, even if it misses the mark.

Why did Google kill Wave?

Wave simply didn't attract the user base it should have. The tool didn't explain itself well enough. The barriers to entry were just too high. The use cases weren't clear. People didn't get it. One million active users wasn't enough in the Google universe.

But why not just keep Wave around like Google's other lesser-popular products, like Knol, Notebook, Buzz?

From what I understand, Wave was a big resource-suck. It was an unfinished product that had a lot of engineers hard at work on it. Many of its features, like live-typing and chatting in-document, are now available in Google Docs, so in some ways, it was redundant. Products like Knol and Notebook are still around because either they were 20% projects or just require very little maintenance. Wave need a lot of humanpower to keep growing, and even at a year old, it was still a baby.

I believe Google is building a major social product right now, rumored to be called "Google Me", which will challenge Facebook. I believe Google Me will integrate features across several different products, including Profiles, Gmail, Buzz, Reader, Sidewiki, and Blogger. I believe Google has an interest in reallocating engineering resources towards this new social product to get it out the door as soon as possible. Facebook has been beating Google's pants off in social for too long. There were some great minds working on Wave, and my bet is Google thinks there are better uses for them elsewhere within the company.

Do you really think Google Me is going to happen? When will it launch?

I have no official confirmation about Google Me. But: Yes. And: Any day now.

Do you regret writing a book on Wave?

Absolutely not. Like Wave, the book itself was an experiment in collaboration. After publishing two editions of a best-selling tech book through a traditional publishing house, I wanted to see if there's a different way. I had an itch to write a book collaboratively, in public, on a wiki, and self-publish the results, and see what happened. That's exactly what Adam and I did with The Complete Guide to Google Wave, and as far as I'm concerned, we proved that it's a viable book publishing model. A model that lives on: Kevin Purdy has begun work on his Complete Guide to Android.

In every failure there's a bit of success. I bet Google learned some hard lessons about product launches and marketing from Wave. The product leaves behind a whole lot of open source webapp code written by some of the best engineers in the business that anyone can repurpose and port into a new app.

What are your favorite Wave features you hope to see show up in other products?

Now that I'm used to having easy inline replies, and multi-branched conversations, I really hope to see that kind of feature become available in Gmail. I also loved the Yes/No/Maybe gadget, a godsend for quickly polling a group inside a message, and drag and drop image-sharing. As for the open source code Wave leaves behind, a startup could create any number of interesting apps--like a real-time project manager or group chat system.

What else do you want to know about what I know about Wave? Post your questions in the comments and I'll answer what I can.

You were the first person I thought about when I heard the announcement.

For me, the reason I stopped using wave, toward the end of the beta period, was that it was just too slow.

Anxious to try google me!

wickenden [+1]
Aug 5 10 at 12:18 pm

So you are interviewing yourself here? Very handy *g*

But I think you are totally right in “The tool didn’t explain itself well enough.” – time is brief, I don’t have time to look into everything so I never got wave. It’s what now? Hm.. ok, that’s nice – now I have to do something else.

And google me? I hope for their sake they have really thought this true, if its yet another perpetual beta hack tacked onto some existing service (“Hey’ve we’ve added social functions to Google Translate – spew gibberish at total strangers for great new experiences”) it will probably sink quickly as well.

Sterlingwit [+10]
Aug 5 10 at 12:19 pm

I guess the biggest question I have is whether, given the open-source nature (and from a licensing perspective) it’s possible that Wave could still “happen”. Is it possible that another company could/would pick it up and run with it? As a collaboration tool, is at the point where, right now, people could host their own Wave like they host their own WordPress or MediaWiki? If so, do you envision anyone actually doing that?

Mike Cerm [+21]
Aug 5 10 at 12:20 pm

I’m hoping that Google will release as much of the source code for the Wave server and client as they can as a reference implementation of sorts. There’s no reason why others can’t pick up where they’re leaving off, right?

Also, your book really was the best explanation by far of what Wave was all about. Google’s attempts to make it easier with the predefined templates was, in retrospect, too little, too late.

Mickey Thaler
Aug 5 10 at 12:23 pm

This is just a sad announcement.

I was a happy Wave user, along with some of my friends at college. It helped us coordinate and organize projects in several classes.

Now we’ll have to look for a good replacement, even tho, I’m not sure there is. Maybe Docs or some other application.

Google Wave was an engineering triumph – a creative mash-up of tried and tested technologies.

However, usability was never improved. User experience was never demonstrably considered by Google. Most users just didn’t get it.

My Posthumous Retrospective on Google Wave

Bob MacNeal
Aug 5 10 at 12:47 pm

Sorry about the bad news, Gina. I hope Google puts Wave into its Google Me product so that it all wasn’t in vain. Google is an awesome but perplexing company so much of the time.

Garmon Estes [+2]
Aug 5 10 at 12:48 pm

I was listening to TWIG when my phone popped up with the news. Ironic that as Leo said “I am sure Google wave will kick off soon” I read the BBC’s headline.

With all the changes like Facebook privacy and Geo location bouncing around the majority of people were just not going to give it the attention it needs which is a pity as it made some tasks very quick and painless.

With any luck we will see it again in a different form hopefully built into Google Me.

Mark Richey [+2]
Aug 5 10 at 1:11 pm

I am sad about this news, I think this is an error by google to stop wave.

I think they did not give it an opportunity at the level of the revolution it brings.

sure the people were not widely welcoming but because they were not seeing things that could impact them and usable in a simple maner. Yes it is complex for people but it could be overcome, like Steve overcame the BS complexity of smartphones produced by MS.

but instead of stopping it they should have fostered the development of applications professional ones and other user friendly ones for every day people.

I still have an idea to use wave professionnally but I don’t know where to express it.

so I will do it here :

The idea is sharing trouble shooting of network incidents among technical people and for others less technical people, I think it could be used by Cisco (or their competitors) to provide a service for their customer.

context :

when there is a major network incident generally people at cisco set up a call conference open to technical people and above all to managers to exchange on the situation and ideas for decisions (changing hardware, rebooting etc.).

Meanwhile there is a Network Engineer from Cisco or from the service provider connecting to the network, one equipment after another to find the reason for the incident and trying to settle it for a while or definitely.

several poeple can log on different routers by it is not easy for them to exchange between each other and see what the others have found.

At the same time may be a chat between network engineer take place to exchange by text

idea :

The idea would be to have a bot in a wave that would copy all that is entered by the network engineer and replied by the router on a copy of the terminal screen in a wave (or blip or wavelet) so that several technical people (in the same wave) could share what other are doing or observing on their terminal.

an image of what is going on, on the terminal screen of one, or up to several technical personn’screen could be displayed in the wave and shared to other people (SP managers, Cisco technical people)

a chat could be shared among technical people

and may be even the call conf could be hosted in a wave.

to share information about what is going on in the trouble shooting session and exchange by audio at the same time as seeing what is going on the technical troubleshooters’screens.

wave could do that great, it could help a lot !

appart from the terminal copy (it could be a bot or an app to developp), every thing is already there in wave(chat, audio conf etc.), just needing the integrating glue, it could bring a lot to the team work of trouble shooting.

I have had this idea for a while but who to express it to ?

to cisco here in France (where I live) but most of the tools come from the USA ?

should I have expressed it to google ?

May be that the difficult part of google wave, it is a collaboration tool and people have to collaborate to make the most of its potential, “it takes two to tango”, and the two parts that would benefit may be, are not ready to collaborate at the same time ? one is willing and the other is not ready yet ?

a bit like Telephony over IP the requested people from telepony to work with people from IT ?

I think wave is revolutionnary, I hope it will be used (one day soon) at the level of what it can ultimatly bring to people !

Thibault [+8]
Aug 5 10 at 2:11 pm

Wave was supposed to be a federated service, doesn’t this mean that the application will still be available (hopefully via open-source), I beleive there was even a Novel application built using Wave.

Google Wave was doomed from the start. 99.9 percent of tech pundits could see that, regular users knew that. You were just blinded by your google ‘fangirl’ glasses.

Nothing wrong with being in google’s back pocket, but these things are going to happen when you are.

Aug 5 10 at 6:22 pm

I think Wave has revolutionized the Web. Google Wave has changed how people use the Web and interact with each other. Though it was an experiment, but definitely it was good enough to push the limits.

Now all those Google Wave features will be by-default feature for any Web app.

It’s like how now every phone has Camera, Wi-Fi, 8GB memory, pre loaded apps for FB, Twitter or any other Networking site. No phone come without these features, similarly in the future No Web App will come without having Real Time Collaboration feature.

In the end – Hats off to Google.

Hi Gina, unlike you I wasn’t a big fan of Google Wave. It’s good to see how Google turned this “failure” into a success though.

I suspect the evolution of those tools developed will have a lot more impact than we think right now. Fully agree with what you said – “it was ahead of its time”.

Darren Gorton
Aug 5 10 at 10:48 pm

I think cancelling Google Wave has been a bad mistake, and it’s going to haunt Google for years to come. Many developers will think twice before starting to invest time and effort in a new tool or platform Google creates. Google Wave really had gone through all the stages that communicated “it’s here to stay”: it went out of limited beta to public release, and then it became one of the select few Google Enterprise apps.

Google Wave was useful as a replacement for IM and Mail in some circumstances. But it really was a new medium for things like project management, teaching, grid computing, and collaborative computing. The combination of persistence, interactivity, and robots/gadgets doesn’t exist anywhere else.

Given that it had only been publicly released for a couple of months, people were just starting to figure out what to do with it.

Google Wave was badly implemented and had a mediocre UI. Its heavy-weight and messy implementation probably meant that it was sucking up a lot more developer resources than it should have. But that’s OK for a product that’s only been publicly available for a couple of months. Google could have fixed that up and migrated developers over to a new, leaner, lighter implementation without the current disruption.

Tom -
Aug 6 10 at 4:29 am

Hi Gina, I wasn’t a fan of Google Wave. In fact, I didn’t understand the hype around Google Wave. Cancelling Wave was a natural reaction because most people didn’t understand the benefits of Wave.

GuineaPig [+1]
Aug 6 10 at 5:55 am

Hey Gina,

Greetings from Munich. I’m a great TWIG & TWIT fan and the 1st think I thought when I did hear the news was “poor Gina”.

Some comments I’d like to share: I think Google WAVE was indeed too early to get “mainstream”. However it is not yet dead. It laid the groundwork for future products; therefore it was the right step for Google launching WAVE.

Breakthroughs happen either in a BigBang (revolution), slowly (evolution) or evolve as a mixture of both. For example Cloud Computing: An evolution in technology, but revolution for the business world.

Now you as the WAVE historian :) have to tell me if WAVE was a revolution in technology and an evolution of using Email/Collaboration services or vice versa. Or not at all ;)

Anyway, based on Darwin’s struggle for life, a revolution in evolution sometimes does (not yet) fit into the existing world and will extinct. A good example is the Volkswagen model “Golf Country” launched in 1991, but hardly succeeded. In the 2000s however Sports Utility Vehicles have been the non-plus ultra. The market and the world were just not yet ready for the “revolution”.

The “SUV try”: http://www.google.de/images?hl=en&safe=off&q=golf%20country&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi

What does it mean for you and Google? You did groundwork in technology and worked on the foundation of something big, very big.
I’m convinced that WAVE is not dead; it will remain as a ripple and may return as a Tsunami.

Aug 6 10 at 6:29 am

As far as I’m concerned Social media killed Google Wave. Or at least social media was instrumental in its demise. The people on Google Wave were not the people who would benefit, or even find useful the functionality of Google Wave. Thus it was discarded as a neat looking but useless Beta.

I confess I never spent much time using Google Wave. I did try to get a few customers using it to collaborate on some documentation, but it was always pulling teeth.

I am most disappointed however by missed opportunity to push Internet communications back towards the federated end of the dial.

Seth Fulton
Aug 6 10 at 8:39 am

I think too few people found any real utility in Wave. Many I know would say things like “I can already do that with Google Docs” and “How is that any different from XYZ?”

On the other hand, I am using Wave and wonder what I’m supposed to do now. Can my waves be exported? If so, exported to what?

What sucks most is Google is pulling the plug and not just letting it exist for users knee-deep (or higher) in Wave already. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be any platform to which to migrate my data. Maybe I ought to take screenshots now?

Would there really be that much of a “resource-suck” to keep it afloat? This will make me think twice before investing time and data into the next best the-future-is-now Google Beta whatever.

“Wave simply didn’t attract the user base it should have. The tool didn’t explain itself well enough. The barriers to entry were just too high. The use cases weren’t clear. People didn’t get it.”

As someone who spends their time communicating technical ideas to non-technical users, I thought Wave was technically interesting and had potential, but found it to be a complete and utter failure for the “real” end user.

The biggest hurdle was simply how sluggish it was – and the longer your threads were, the slower it became until the thread ground to practical halt and you had to start a new thread.

I stopped using Wave early on; I loathe live-typing and there was no way to turn it off (no idea if that ever changed).

Wave was neat and “tricksy,” but it didn’t offer me sufficient control over the output to abandon good ol’ instant messenger & email.

Aug 8 10 at 5:26 am

Wave was a very hit or miss product. Either you thought it was genius and wanted it to become huge, or you didn’t understand it or see the point in it.

I think the warning bells went off after this year’s Google I/O, which from a numbers perspective, was a relative failure for Wave. I did the math on a blog post here; 584 blips is tiny for a conference of that size, especially given how hard Google was trying to promote live Waves in every session.

I know we students at the CS department of my college will miss Wave greatly.

Yanik Magnan
Aug 8 10 at 8:22 pm

if not google wave then what other thing are you most excited about in this genre.

i think broadcasting for months on end, your not invited, your not invited was hella offputting

I agree with Gina – Google made a huge mistake by shutting down the Wave. I personally feel that in addition to marketing failures – Google also never succeed to gather a vision of what Wave can be in potential. In my vision – Wave replaces the regular browser based Internet experience with one that is inherently social/collaborative and augmented – by robots and gadgets that are personally customized for each user. I believe, this future will come regardless of what Google decides to do with Wave. It just postpones it. And Google looses the chance to be the first mover.

Yuri Zelikov
Aug 25 10 at 7:31 am

I see one of the major issues with Wave is that the best explanation and advice on what the product was and how to use it came from outside the company.

How could they hope it could gain traction if they can’t explain it to the masses?

The whole “email killer” direction was a waste, it might have been apt but it didn’t make sense to the ‘average user’ out there.

I would never have understood it or even tried it had it not been for your great work evangelizing it and explaining it and now I’m lamenting the death of the project BUT I have absolutely no doubt it will appear again in one form or another in either ‘GoogleMe’ or some other product like GMail.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve wasted time, your book is great and just know that you explained really well a technology that the people who created it couldn’t explain worth a damn.

Aug 26 10 at 6:07 pm

since they are going to stop wave soon I think you should allow downloads of your book for free

Nathan Laplante
Aug 30 10 at 4:12 pm

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!