I get the feeling talking to regular web-folk that Google Wave was a huge disappointment for them. With the introduction of Buzz, comments and posts flew asking “will this be better than that Google Wave failure?”


It’s taken me this long to figure out that people are not viewing Google Wave the way I do. The current technology life cycle goes something like this:

  1. Readers are on the lookout for new products to try, and better yet - beta invites to get early exclusive access to the next big thing.

  2. They try the site, decide if it fits in with their day-to-day activities and if it gives them any benefit over the last shiny new thing they tried.

  3. They talk it up to their friends to get them to join, as these sites are almost always no fun without a large number of people you know and respect.

Then the cycle repeats for all manner of sites and services.

I do this. Every day I pop open Techcrunch, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, Web Worker Daily and others to keep informed of the latest hot places I can claim my name on. I’ve joined Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, Plurk, and others too numerous to mention all vying to be the place I share my daily activities. It’s almost addictive to keep on top of the latest sites.

I’m guessing a lot of the people who were itching for Wave invites were, like I normally would be, expecting Google Wave to deliver something to replace Facebook or Twitter or Google Docs, or whatever they got in their heads it would be amazing for. It’s unsurprising that people want to use the best tools they can for their work (and leisure). The problem was that Google Wave was never meant to be a replacement for any of these things. It wasn’t even meant to be a replacement for email - not just yet anyway.

The best post about this topic came from Daniel Tenner. What problems does Google Wave solve? came out soon after Wave debuted and attempted to explain this disconnect between what people were expecting and what was actually delivered. It’s an excellent read, and vital to the understanding of what Google Wave is meant to be. The short version is: Google is building something that might be our preferred platform for communication some time in the future. They’re not expecting it to be an overnight sensation, they just want people to be aware of it, and start thinking how they can use it to phase out busted email technology.

At the recent SXSW conference, Louis Gray reported on talks by the GMail team:

Google Wave, which debuted in early beta last year, is a “leapfrog project”, which goes beyond today’s environment, but is set to impact a future Web.

Gmail Failures, Crazy Ideas and Wave’s Leapfrog.

The important thing to keep in your mind here is that Google Wave will only succeed (over time) if they have a large collection of useful add ons and competing alternative services that interoperate. They’re attempting to oust a 30-year-old technology that has morphed and grown and matured and become one of the vital technologies of the web today. Everyone uses it, and it’s been shoehorned into all sorts of roles it’s unsuited for. Google knows that replacing it will not be easy, and they don’t expect it will happen quickly. They do know it will take a lot of work from 3rd party developers to give it even a fraction of the rich ecosystem that email has. So they want to get it right.

So next time you log in to Wave keep that in mind. And if you’re a developer, give it another shot. You’re our best hope of retiring email from our lives and giving us real, exciting and useful new technology as the most ubiquitous communication tool we have.

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/geishabot/ / CC BY 2.0