What went wrong with Google Wave?

As Google announces it’s ceasing development on Wave, Simon Brew wonders just what went wrong.

Back to the beta

So what happened, and where did it go wrong? The answers might just lie in the original response to the beta itself, the best part of a year ago. Because once the smokescreen had cleared, some interesting feedback emerged.

If you read between the lines of the hype that accompanied the initial roll-out of Google Wave (and the proclamation that it was the biggest online launch since Gmail seems incredibly out of place now), there was an awful lot of appreciation for what it did, but little in the way of explanation as to how you could practically use it.

There's little doubt that Wave is a fascinating piece of programming work, bringing together many collaborative elements, social network influences and open source sensitivities all in one place. Reviews rightly focused on this too at the time, given that it was impossible to effectively judge its performance in practice until more people were using it.

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The problem with testing a collaborative service with only 100,000 users worldwide, after all, is that the contacts list tends to be very small. As such, you can only call it as you see it.

And yet there was an inherent problem with providing a platform that could do so much right from the start. In short, what would you end up using Wave for? Could you really collaborate on a document with several people at once, given the wealth of distractions around the working screen, for instance? In fact, was the whole system that easy to use, and wrap your head around? It could potentially do so much, and yet it had a habit of appearing muddled on a screen. Say what you like about Facebook, but you always know where you stand with it.

Google Wave invited you to add and remove people to Blips, for instance. Yet just what did that mean, and how did you do it? People, it seemed, grew less interested in finding out.

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