Why Google Wave Broke
Google recently announced they are dropping support for Google Wave, the much-hyped, email-killing, instant-messaging-replacing, super awesome communication technology that was going to cure cancer and make us communicate better to boot. It’s not surprising that it’s over. It’s a little sad, because there was potential in Wave, but it’s not surprising.
Everyone on the net is trying to explain why Wave didn’t take off. I can’t speak for everyone (just the trees – you can call me the Lorax), but I can tell you why I tried Wave and didn’t like it, or at least, didn’t find it useful. I’m trying my best to not fill this article with wave-based puns, but no promises. One or two might roll in. Ack!
Anyway, the reason Wave wasn’t as popular as it should have been is twofold: one, it didn’t have much user adoption and it was a closed system, so you could really only talk to people in Wave who were using Wave. If you’d been able to link the functionality with other systems – say, if you could email a Wave, text message a Wave, or integrate other communication techs that people already use, users would have been more likely to try it out.
Secondly, and this is by far the most important thing, Google Wave had terrible mobile support. I want to explain why this matters so much:
I was in college before I got high-speed internet, but once I did, I had my favorite communication technology, instant messaging (AOL’s IM client) running 24×7. So did all my friends. It functioned as a real-time chat client, an answering machine, and a way to tell who was still awake playing counter-strike at 3AM and might want to go grab some food at the all-night diner. It was great.
But then mobile phones and text messaging took off. Text messaging, in the early days, was pretty expensive, but it had one major advantage over instant messaging – you could get texts anywhere, all the time. You didn’t have to be sitting at your computer.
We were all sitting at our computers all the time during college, but once we graduated we got jobs sitting at a computer all day, so we didn’t want to do it at home, too. This made text messaging even stronger. Then came facebook and gchat, which brought in chat without client-installed software, and instant messaging is mostly dead. People still use it, but not nearly to the extent that we did when it was all we had.
Smartphones sealed the deal. Text messaging, facebook messaging, email, voice, data – all these things can be accessed on the fly, anywhere, anytime. Wave died because its mobile support was limited, cumbersome, and in some cases, not really supported. Wave wanted a return to sitting at the computer to communicate, like in the old instant messaging days, and that’s never going to happen.
There is a possibility that Wave would have succeeded if it had been built from the ground up as a mobile technology with a web-based option, instead of the other way around. The only way a new communication medium could possibly live up to all the hype Wave received is if the technology was focused on mobile support as its most important goal.
I don’t want to sit at my computer anymore to communicate and no one else does, either.
(Man, I need an awesome sign-off line. I always feel the urge to say, “And that’s the Word” at the end of these posts. But that’s just rank plagiarism. Anyone have any ideas?)