Thursday, August 5, 2010

Google Wipes Out while Riding the Wave

Google announced on Wednesday that they were pulling the plug and stopping development on Google Wave, the online collaboration service that was supposed to be the next generation of email. Unveiled to the public only a few months ago, the amazing product combines features of instant messaging, Twitter, email, and other communication mediums to create a single centralized collaboration environment that far outperforms the typical snail mail process. With features such as real-time collaboration, plugins and extensions, automatic spell-check, image slideshows, and a whole lot more, Google expected it to wow users as the next revolution in technology. However, while the product was popular among developers for sure,  Google executives say production was halted due to lack of user interest and less user adopting than initially expected.

Users of Google Wave were most likely turned away from its revolutionary design and feature line because of its complexity and novelty. With everybody so used to traditional email, having the message in a single location rather than sending it back and forth was a paradigm change that many would not easily adopt to. The concept is very staggering, as a decentralized messaging service makes the product seem more like a forum than a collaboration platform. However, users do not realize that this is done on purpose. The ability to reply to any part of a message is a key part in allowing better communication, as it allows direct referencing to what a user is referring to. Furthermore, the ability to edit other people's messages was also a big turn off for some.

However, the primary reason Google Wave did not experience widespread adoption is stubbornness. Even if every person in the world understood the purpose of Google Wave and why it was ultimately superior to email, adoption would still be slow. People do not like to change. So to have even a few thousand or ten thousand people throw out the communication service they have known and loved for decades, just so Google can control their information and supposedly improve their lives, is a lot to ask. If Google really wanted to motivate users to switch from email to Wave, they would need one very important feature, something that was left out until very late in the development process and something that should have been emphasized more when Wave was released: backward compatibility. If you want people to switch from email to Wave, there needs to be a way to integrate Wave with email so users can still interact with any of their contacts who have not yet switched. While you can now add email addresses as participants to a wave, not many are aware of this feature, and that is why Google is not seeing user adoption.

Adding to that, Google did not seem to make a big deal out of Wave at all. Only those who watched the hour long Google I/O presentation really understood what was in the works here, and an even smaller amount were interested enough to actually use it. So while people may have been bidding thousands of dollars on Wave invites before it was released to the public, in reality nobody really knew what the service was, let alone what it was supposed to become. If Google had publicized the service more, gotten the word out, and got more companies and organizations involved in the revolution, there would have been a much bigger user adoption rate, and maybe the service would still be alive today.

If Google was really enthusiastic about Wave (like it is about Android), it would have gone to the ends of the Earth to ensure the service's success. Maybe there would have been an interface in Gmail that allowed you to transfer your contacts, etc. all over to Wave at once, so you could continue communicating as you normally would (this technique almost worked with Buzz if it had not been for the privacy issues). But this did not happen, and it is pretty obvious why. Wave does not have advertisements, therefore Google is not making profit off of it, so to have an entire team of engineers focus on a product that is not bringing in the dough, while at the same time Android is pushing its way to the top, is a bad business plan in Google's eyes, and they are right to an extent.

Personally, I am sad to here that development had stopped. Google Wave was a great service that really proved useful in those situations when email was not really enough, and I still use it a lot. Fortunately, Google will not pull down the service completely, at least for the time being, allowing existing users to continue doing what they do best: wave.

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