Goodbye Google Wave

Posted by in Project Management, Technology

On August 4th Google announced that it would be discontinuing support for the Google Wave web service at the end of 2010. This decision was due largely to the fact that the once lauded web tool failed to gain traction and increasingly frustrated users trying to discover a workable use case. Wave was a light that burned out quickly in the tech community, hardly even reaching it’s first birthday before Google pulled the plug. There are those that will mourn it’s demise, but for most it will pass unnoticed as another Google property allowed to wither and die on the vine. I however, feel that we need to give Wave a proper funeral. After all, this was the technology that was supposed to replace email.

I recently wrote an article for the Click Here Insights Blog describing the pitfalls of creating solutions based around using technology for technology’s sake. I used Wave as an example of this common mistake and for good reason. Google Wave utilized some revolutionary browser enhancements. So revolutionary in fact, that Wave never worked in Internet Explorer. Google handicapped it’s creation from the start by the simple fact that it did not work at all in the browser that over 50% of all people use to view the internet. Now, I hate IE as much as the next bloke, but when you want your product to be accepted by a wide audience then it might be a good idea to make sure that you aren’t limiting the reach of that product.

The argument for the lack of IE support is the advanced browser technology like being able to view others typing in real time. What follows is an example of the typical users reacting to real time typing.

“Wow, we can actually see each other typing in real time.” This was the immediate reaction which was invariably followed by the second reaction: “That’s really annoying, how do I turn that feature off?”

Of course you couldn’t do, although Google was kind enough to give us a grayed-out button just so we knew that someday in the distant future we would be able to turn it off. As if waiting to receive functionality that is actually the default behavior in hundreds of instant messaging clients wasn’t frustrating. Or perhaps the ability to remove someone from a wave? Such simple and most would say essential functionality failed to ship with the beta release of Wave. Yes it was beta, but let’s face it, the product was not in any shape to be released to public testing when invites started to go out last year.

And who can forget Dr. Wave? He was the annoying….err, I mean friendly mascot for Google Wave. He was so annoying….err, helpful in his tutorial videos that really didn’t explain much of anything about how someone should actually use Wave. I guess it didn’t really matter if the videos were helpful or not because any sane person couldn’t sit through the entire thing. Seriously, that guy made me wish for Clippy the anthropomorphic paper clip from Microsoft Office. Now that was a mascot that was worthy of all of my hatred and scorn.

At least once you got passed the broken or missing functionality, the lack of standard browser support and the super annoying mascot the user interface was intuitive right? Wrong! After using Wave for a year I still can’t easily navigate my way around the thing. Why must I browse for extensions in the same interface that I use for my inbox? How do I add a contact if they don’t have a Google account…or if I just don’t know what it is? Why do I continually click in the wrong place in a wave and then I’m only replying to one waver and not the entire distribution list? And when I do make this mistake why is it near impossible to delete my reply.

It’s not that Google Wave was a bad idea, if fact, I originally thought that the technology has some serious potential. I wrote an article after watching the I/O about how project managers could harness the new communication process presented in Wave to better collaborate with teams locally or spread out across the world. The problem was, like it is with so many of Google’s properties, that the tech giant did not support it. All of the issues I outline above could have been easily remedied if only Google had responded when users complained about them. Alas, Wave looks and acts today much as it did upon it’s birth just over one year ago. It’s major defects left unaddressed and it’s potential left unrealized. Personally I hope that Google incorporates some of the advances from Wave into it’s other web properties. Gmail, Google Reader and Google Docs could all benefit from the lessons learned from Wave. If Google can do that then this web tool need not have died in vain.

Let us all learn some valuable lessons from Google Wave. When the technology is so advanced that most users can’t operate it then it will make success more difficult. When one worries too much about what can be done and not enough about what should be done then users are likely to be confused by the product. Once mistakes are made, act quickly to correct them or users will just as quickly loose patience with the product. If Google had heeded these simple truths then Wave might not have died so young.

So without further delay I would like to officially say goodbye to Google Wave. So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, adieu. At least some of us will miss you. Now play him off Keyboard Cat!