The Wave fizzled – or did it?

wave_220x14715703.jpgA few months back I had a “light bulb moment” and wrote about the potential for workplace communication and collaboration that I was starting to see in Google Wave. Soon after writing that piece, I started to see a rapid decline in Wave’s usage among my fellow early adopters. It was easy to see why. Google Wave was available by invitation-only, and this obviously hurts buy-in from potential collaborators. It was also a tad buggy and undeveloped, as is typical in a “beta” offering.

Over the past few months, though, I’ve observed a pickup in interest around Wave, and this was due to a number of things:

  1. Google finally removed the “invitation-only” restriction, and allowed anyone with an e-mail address to be added to a wave.
  2. The development of many more gadgets, robots and other extensions that potentially made Wave more useful.
  3. The development of stand-alone and mobile applications for Wave.
Thanks to these developments and the pickup in buzz (again) I’d observed in the educational technology community, I decided to put last year’s “light bulb moment” to the test. I’ve moved a few of the projects I’ve got going at work into Wave, in the hopes of facilitating focused conversations and collaboration around these projects. I was starting to see just a little traction, and was contemplating my next blog post’s focus on these efforts, when, suddenly…
Google announced it was killing Wave. As in, stopping development immediately, and stopping the hosting of Wave by the end of the year.
What are the lessons to be learned here? Well, it was obviously a business decision on Google’s part. Many successful new technologies follow an adoption pattern of hype/early adopters, followed by a lag in interest (read “flat” or “slow” uptake, or perhaps even a drop), followed again by steady mass adoption. We saw this model perfectly with Twitter – enthusiastic early adopters, followed by a lag, followed by a slow steady mass adoption to the point where it is today. Was that secondary uptick curve not looking good enough to Google? Was there no secondary uptick curve at all, with me only seeing slow returning enthusiasm among my peers in the ed tech community? We may never know. As I said, it’s a business decision. In a tough economy especially, it’s probably necessary to let go of our sunk costs in projects that we may be altruistically attached to, but where returns don’t justify continued investment. (It was definitely a rather sudden announcement though, even the Google Wave Blog makes no mention of it as of the time of this posting.)
I still think there’s hope. Wave is mostly open-source, and someone else might pick it up, perhaps even turning out an enterprise version. A company with good business sense would learn the lessons from Google’s mistakes and improve the user experience, attempt to understand real world use cases, write better documentation, market it well, etc. All in all, I still strongly feel that a focused, multimodal, real-time communication platform like this has vast potential in terms of keeping people and projects on track. As I said back in November, I find e-mail to be cognitively distracting and a terrible way for collaboration to happen. I can say the same thing about Twitter (sorry Twitter fanboys and fangirls). It’s all just too much noise.
I’m very interested to hear your thoughts in comments.