Wow. Google’s Urs Hölzle has blogged that the company is ceasing development on Wave, the collaborative service which it introduced at its I|O conference last year. It may use some of the technologies in other products, and everything’s open source, so others might continue work in it. But the product which once seemed like Google’s most audacious (even arrogant) attempt to change the way the world shares information isn’t going to change the world.
Here’s how I attempted to explain Wave shortly after it was announced:
I’m not sure if I can describe Wave in one coherent sentence. It:
- Is a service that looks like a rich piece of client software;
- Behaves like sophisticated threaded e-mail;
- Acts like IM when multiple collaborators are online at once.
- Is one of the most real-time collaborative tools I’ve ever seen.
- Has revision marking and versioning for workgroup editing.
- Has instant photo sharing.
- Allows its functionality to be embedded into blogs and social networks;
- Can serve as a container for OpenSocial applications;
- Has what Google says is a revolutionary spell checker;
- Comes in mobile flavors for Android and iPhone;
- Is an open-source project that lets developers write both Wave extensions (we saw one that grabs tweets and brings them into Wave) and their own servers (which can talk to other Wave servers).
I’m probably skipping or forgetting about a third of the things that Google mentioned…and I’m pretty sure it didn’t detail everything about Wave in the 90-minute demo.
Wave debuted only shortly over fourteen months ago; even if it were the greatest landmark in collaborative computing history, I don’t see how it have become an unqualified hit in so little time. It’s just too ambitious, too different from existing tools, and too dependent on large numbers of people understanding it and liking it. Like Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook, it’s the sort of product that would succeed only after a long, hard slog.
I don’t know how many people are using Wave–it opened up last May– but it clearly got off to a rocky start on the PR front, and neve recovered. It was impossible to sum up in a few sentences. It seemed designed to replace e-mail and other tools that weren’t going to vanish just because Wave had shown up. Some of its alleged benefits seemed like downsides, like the way it showed you what other people typed character-by-character. At first, people wanted invites to the private beta; once they got there, they had trouble figuring out to do with it. After a while, simply mentioning it provoked jokes, such as references to crickets chirping.
In a strange way, the story of Wave reminds me of the short life of Microsoft’s Kin, played out over a longer stretch of time. You can make fun of Google for misjudging what users wanted so badly, and for deciding the whole thing was a bad idea only after investing scads of money in it. Or you can take a slightly kinder, gentler view: Maybe Google’s willingness to make the embarrassing decision to kill Wave is a sign it wants to do fewer things and do them better.
Anyone out there really sorry to see Wave go?