What happened to Google Wave?

OpenWave Logo

It would seem that any free technology which can improve communications and coordination in an enterprise would be a natural BizzHack.  Surely!  So what happened to Google Wave?  Announced in May 2009, and launched in September 2009 to great fanfare, Google Wave was supposed to be the email killer…a combination of web email, instant messaging and collaborative document processor in one, with many more bells and whistles attached to it.  But Google has ceased active development, and as of the end of April 2012, they turned off the servers.

As an early user (explorer) of the tool, it quickly became clear to me that it was a revolution in communications.  It also became clear that it would appeal to a relatively select user base, the ‘early adopters’, because for it to be truly useful, it needed to be adopted by a large number of users,  and very quickly.  The revolution didn’t happen.

Google Wave

This Hack helps you communicate, coordinate and collaborate with your colleagues.

BizzHacks Overall:★★★★☆ 
Access to Benefits:★★☆☆☆ 
Implementation Cost:★☆☆☆☆ 
Potential Impact:★★★★★ 

May 2012.  More about our ratings.

What was Google Wave

At the outset, a wave worked much like email.  You started a wave by including other parties – other wave users – into it, and writing a message.  Unlike email, a wave is stored on a centralized server, rather than distributed between servers (and clients).  This architecture allowed the other parties to respond to it or contribute to it, in real time.  So a wave could be edited or amended by multiple parties at one time, in real time – a collaborative, email/messaging/document processing tool.   And you could play back development of a Wave to see it evolve and grow. Developers could also build add-ins, robots and extensions (gadgets) to extend waves’ functionality.

Powerful, and useful for arranging movies after work or playing chess, but it creates a problems in the workplace, related to version tracking and confidentiality.  And if a wave is stored on a server, and people from multiple organisations are co-creating it, then who owns it?  And who can see it?

google wave image

Click to expand Google Wave Screenshot

The End of The Wave?

It’s curious that Google suspended active development of The Wave, announced on 4th August 2010, when it must have had several million subscribers.  Some say that it was because of their desire to focus resources on building a social network to compete with the up-and-coming Facebook, but Google has no shortage of resources and Wave would have been a unique and compelling feature of a social network.

More likely, although the wave had many subscribers, it probably ended up with few users.  I know from personal experience, that having another communication platform to check is one too many more…and unless many of your contacts are using it, it’s cumbersome to split conversations between platforms.  Also, Wave was only available in the browser, so users of email clients such as Outlook,  and mobile hardware, didn’t find it very convenient.  It’s likely that Google Wave was killed by the the network effect of email; it’s presently too dominant…but it won’t be king forever, just as the once dominant fax machine is now consigned to the museum.

The wave gained some aficionados…a website was set up called Save The Wave that has attracted over 50,000 supporters; you can see from the messages left on the site, that it was used for a wide range of activities.

The Future of The Wave

Google released the majority of the code for Wave as open source software, allowing the public and third parties to develop features, through extensions and services.  Furthermore it published the protocol for a wave as an open protocol, to allow federation with alternative platforms. These are potentially huge gifts from Google to mankind…which shouldn’t be minimised by an early setback.

It’s likely that Wave technology will re-appear in other Google products – it’s probably already in them… but the other hopeful news is that Wave was accepted by the Apache Foundation’s Incubator program under the project name Apache Wave, announced on 6 December 2010 on the  Google Wave Developer blog.  A Wave Proposal page with details on the projects goals was created on the Apache Foundation’s Incubator Wiki. What does this mean?  To quote Apache:

“Incubation is required of all newly accepted projects until a further review indicates that the infrastructure, communications, and decision making process have stabilized in a manner consistent with other successful ASF projects. While incubation status is not necessarily a reflection of the completeness or stability of the code, it does indicate that the project has yet to be fully endorsed by the ASF.”

The Apache Foundation created and maintains the (open source) web server that power some 70% of the Internet.  So that’s a real glimmer of hope for Wave.  Say Goodbye, Wave Hello.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)

  1. Andrew
    8 years ago

    Google Wave also inspired several startups to build something of their own:

    * http://rizzoma.com/ – free and open source, it continues and expands the Google Wave philosophy with cool features like tasks and Twitter-like mentions.

    * http://co-meeting.com/ – very similar to Google Wave at first glance, but seems to focus more on meetings.

    * http://runby.me/ – a B2B service for companies that go heavy on text-based communications. It is designed to support both email and hosted conversations within a single UX, allows to assign tasks and keep track of them, and has built-in workflows for general communications, helpdesk, Kanban and sales.

    It is not just the code that is important, but the idea itself.

    • BizzHacker
      8 years ago

      Thanks Andrew – naturally, I'll be having a good look at these links. It's good to see that the idea has been adopted and is evolving.

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