Requiem for a Wave

Google announced Aug. 4 its intention to kill off its Wave project before the end of this year, citing poor user uptake. Out in the twitterverse (or at least the bit of it that I follow), the move has been met with broad approval, even rejoicing — which I don’t quite understand. If you don’t like Wave, don’t use it, right?

I saw promise in Wave — at least in the technology behind Wave, although I was never quite satisfied with the way that Google implemented it. From the first time I saw it, at a pre-release demo at Google’s San Francisco campus less than one year ago, Wave has looked like an in-development project, something on the road to being a product, but clearly not yet there.

For instance, one of the most frequently cited use cases for Wave was as a sort of e-mail/instant messaging replacement, which didn’t sound bad — I know that my e-mail is severely overloaded, and could use a next-gen upgrade. The trouble was that Google left us without any e-mail-to-Wave migration or integration path — if the thing was to supplant e-mail, just how was that supposed to work?

Another problem with Wave, specifically as an e-mail and IM replacement, is that where I can choose from many different e-mail servers, hosted by many different providers and in many different ways, there was only Google’s Wave. While the bits behind Wave are open source, Google might have attracted more Wave uptake if it had released a reference implementation of the Wave server for the community to take up, hack on and combine with other projects.

When I left that Wave demo a year ago, I was brimming with ideas for a Wavey future. I reached back into my notes to pull out this idea, for a Wave-powered forum software project:

Forums can be great for finding support — answers to all sorts of questions — but as they grow, they can be very difficult to digest and to participate in. If an answer has been found, it could be in the middle of a 7 page thread, with the pages before dealing with refining the question and so on, and the latter pages dealing with additional questions from people for whom the fix didn’t work.

The info in the forms has real value, great value, but it needs curation, needs pruning, it needs to start small, with a question, and grow as more information comes in, and as people suggest potential fixes, and so on, and then shrink as the answer and the question are both well defined, and maybe grow again as new wrinkles emerge, or as new people maybe ask a variation on that question, and then shrink, etc.

And then there’s the question of people asking questions that have been answered elsewhere, which is a sort of pollution of the forums, and other people simply telling them to search the forums, which is also forum pollution.

In our wavy example, it could be ok to have people ask their redundant questions, maybe in a special wave for that purpose, and bots sitting in the wave could reply suggesting (via search) waves where those questions maybe have been answered. The questions could time out (another bot could handle this) and you’d lose that pollution, and the guys telling people to search would have been replaced by the auto searches.

I can’t say that I’ve been a heavy–or even moderate–user of Wave, but we did try a few things with the service, like using Wave+embedding for a couple of event liveblogs. Also, the labs guys and I fired up a Wave to brainstorm about eWEEK’s 2011 edit calendar (see pic, above).

The open-source licensing and the pledge from Google to integrate some Wavy bits into its other apps mean that we haven’t necessarily seen the last of Wave, and I’m glad of that. I do wish, however, that Google had given this innovation more of an opportunity to succeed.