Saturday, August 07, 2010

Google Wave, We Hardly Knew Ye. Literally.

Google has decided to pull the plug on Google Wave, because it hasn’t seen the level of adoption that they would have liked. This is unfortunate, because, as my readers know, I very much buy into the Wave concept. I would prefer to be using Wave over email, prefer to be using it over IM, and in a lot of cases prefer to be using it rather than creating documents. I was also looking forward to using Wave to write my blog posts.

I’d even begun work on creating a Wave gadget, but was hindered by some features that weren’t yet available—such as the ability to dynamically set the width of the gadget—but were being “worked on”. (I now see why they weren’t so quickly developed.) I had some ideas for other gadgets or robots, too; I probably would have ended up implementing all of the plugins I’d written for HTML-Kit as Wave gadgets/robots.

The thing is, despite my excitement about Wave, and my willingness to create a gadget, and the fact that I would prefer to use it, I barely ever do. And I don’t use it for the exact reason that Google is shutting it down: nobody else is using it. Wave is all about communication and collaboration—if you’ve got nobody to communicate with, if you’ve got nobody to collaborate with, then it’s not going to do you any good. The very first adopters of email, back in the day, could only email people with access to the network and email accounts of their own; for everyone else, they had to send actual letters. Same with Wave; I could “wave” with other people on Wave, but for everyone else—which is practically everybody—I have to use email and IM.

I’m not sure if it’s time yet for Google to shut it down; something like this would naturally take a long time to come into its own, and I’m not sure it’s been long enough. (Not that I’m expecting Google to read this blog post, and say, “Hey, serna’s right! We should give Wave a few more years!”) You can’t “get” Wave unless you’re using it, with other people who use it, and since hardly anyone is using it, very few people yet “get” wave or use it for anything useful. It’s not like Google Maps, where you can take one look at it and say, “Hey, that’s useful! Look, you can drag the map around with your mouse, and zoom in and zoom out, and you can search for things nearby your location, and…” It’s something that you’d need to use for a while, and start to realize how it gradually takes over where you used to email, or IM, or write a document, now all you’re using is Wave. Eventually you’d get to a point where there would be a minor level of irritation when you have to communicate with someone who doesn’t use Wave—but the thing is, most of us who buy into Wave have been constantly in that state for a year or two.

Just this past week, I had a conversation with a colleague. My manager had sent an email, and there were some Reply Alls and some replies sent only to me, and then my colleague IM’ed me to talk about it further. And during the conversation she said, “See, we don’t need google wave, we already act as if its all one communication device.” To which I had to respond, “But if we had Wave, we wouldn’t need this side IM conversation. You could respond right within the Wave, but make it private so that only I’d see it.” Really, there would have been no need for the Reply Alls, there would have been no need for the IM conversation—or multiple conversations, if others were discussing it as well—and if anyone had been away from their desk and came back, they wouldn’t have seen an Inbox full of emails, they would have see one, consolidated wave. My colleague is right, we don’t need Google Wave; we already have email and IM. But then again, we don’t need IM, either; we could just send little emails back and forth all the time for our conversations—so why do we use IM? Because it’s easier. And if we had Wave, the set of conversations mentioned in this instance, spread across emails and IMs, also would have been easier, and nobody would have had to fire up MSN Messenger.

My point being that people still don’t get Wave, and how could they if they’re not using it, and why should they use it—or how could they use it—if nobody else is?

I definitely understand Google’s “release early and release often” philosophy, and I can see why they rolled out Wave the way they did—only to a few hundred developers first, then to a preview audience, and only recently opening it up to the world—but unfortunately, because of that strategy, the main use for Wave over the last year has been a lot of navel gazing. A thousand people talking to each other about how great Wave is, and wishing they could get their friends and colleagues to use it so that they could start using it for real communication.