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Saturday, 7 August 2010

I'd rather not (google) wave goodbye ...

I'm sure that most people reading this will already have heard that recently Google have announced that wave will no longer be developed as-is and the expectation is that it will be removed as an offering by the end of the year. Now there are still a surprising number of people who never even saw wave, and who wouldn't recognise the name, and that's a shame because I genuinely believed in the potential that this tool had to offer. There were, however, a number of issues relating to it, and they were mainly related to marketing. Seeing how Google has done with GMail, Android, and probably GoogleTV in the future, it's a little surprising that it failed, but here's my take on why:

  1. Adoption - people weren't 'on it' Needing to have a google account got in the way, especially when it was restricted invite-only in the beginning (although given how buggy it was at the start, it's understandable). I used wave a number of times but many of the people I wanted involved didn't have an account so signing up made use of it more problematic that it should have been. Maybe they should have bit the bullet and allowed facebook accounts to log in?

  2. It was slow Yes, unless you used Chrome the performance wasn't great. While that's a great showcase for the performance of advanced javascript in chrome, and I'm sure that people who started using wave gave chrome an increased user base, it doesn't help mass adoption when you effectively force users to switch browser to make your web application usable. Another option, which as I said on twitter wouldn't be very google like, would have been to promote standalone wave clients more which could have improved the performance issues.

  3. It needed to work on mobile/cell phones - Partially as a result of it being slow due to the advanced javascript, it needed a proper 'light' version that could be used universally. This alone, even as an option on the desktop, could have saved wave if performed well. There was this link which worked on an iPhone/Android device, but unless you switched your useragent string (see end of article) it would send you back to the main wave interface. Why did they put this restriction in? Just because it didn't work on many other browsers? It would have been great to have a small wave browser window on my desktop!

  4. "What is google wave?" Trying to explain it in easy-to-understand concise terms is difficult:

    • It's an HTML5 social collaborative editing tool - ok that means nothing useful to most people outside the computer industry, and to be honest, that still doesn't mean anything useful to a much of the population of the computer industry
    • It's a potential email replacement - lots of people like email, and like their clients, so that's a hard sell. There are certain uses of email that wave could replace brilliantly - 'request for comments' on particular comments sent to a list where many people can reply and everyone sees the replies (don't you just hate your email inbox filling up with those sorts of things?, but it's not a universal replacement that would be applicable to most 1:1 email communications.
    • It's an instant messaging client - well yes that was showed at the keynote, but it's one potential way of using it to show off flexibility rather than a main selling point use for it

    In my opinion if it had been pitched as a replacement for something like web forums it could have seen a lot more user adoption. Most web forums make it difficult to reply to specific parts of a post, and if a forum topic goes 'off topic' it becomes very difficult to find the useful posts within an given topic. (I should point out here that while I also use and like IRC, it suffers the same problem as forum threads with multiple interleaved conversations threads within a channel) Wave's threading is therefore much better than web forums, and even surpasses NNTP which allows replies only at the article level, not at a specific point within an article.

    For enterprise use, it's a "collaborative document editor", allowing a potentially cross-enterprise team to work on a single document (such as a design doc) and update it in real time, and post inline comments that anyone can see and answer. Does anyone know of another technology that does that so well? I hate having one or two people write a document in a word processor then handing it round via email for comments, usually via email, which have to be tied back into the original document by the author.

I still believe that wave's failure, like a number of other products in computing history, is that it was ahead of its time (all browser javascript engines have undergone lots of performance boosts in the last year), and that in a few years we'll realise that what we need is a social collaborative live document editing tool that can be used to replace most uses of email ...

Want to try the mobile UI on your desktop?

Either use the waver AIR app linked below, or change the user-agent string in your browser. For example in firefox, try the user-agent-switcher or go to 'about:config', then right click- New -- string -- "general.useragent.override" -- and set any iPhone (or Android, which others?) user agent ID such as:

  • Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/1A543a Safari/419.3
  • Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.1-update1; en-gb; HTC Desire Build/ERE27) AppleWebKit/530.17 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/530.17

or pick another iPhone one from this page


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