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Google Wave Created More Problems Than It Solved

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Google will abandon Google Wave in 2011.

Before I rant about what I think was wrong with Google Wave, and why I thought it was doomed to fail from the beginning, I must first admit that I, too, manage an imperfect product. As Raven’s product manager, I can look at just about any aspect of it and find flaws. In fact, I’m not alone. I get to read what other people think of it on a daily basis through feature requests and bug reports.

However, the difference between Google Wave and Raven is that Raven was and is solving problems. Some of the biggest problems it’s solving include:

  • the need for centralized campaign data
  • the need for industry standard tools to communicate with each other
  • the need to combine different sources of data to create new insights
  • the ability to quickly and easily create campaign reports for clients

When Google created Wave, they thought they were solving the problem of email communication – something that wasn’t and still isn’t broken.

Worst Party Ever

Google Wave allows you to start a conversation about any topic, using what looks like Google Docs’ little brother. It wasn’t just messages, though. It was also discussions, task tracking, meetings, documents, and brainstorming. Of course, all of these wonderful Wave options were really just specially formatted messages. There’s nothing quite like working on a tiny, tiny document with others.

Speaking of others, that’s a major feature of Google Wave. It allows you to invite your friends to join a wave. Unfortunately, it also allows everyone you invited to invite their own friends. Worst party ever.

What was a conversation between you and a friend just became a conversation with 50 other people you don’t know. Imagine that in real life! It reminds me of when my wife and I invited another couple to go out, and then that couple decided to invite two other couples to come along with us. It’s a true story, and it’s also an excellent way to piss me off.

While Google’s left hand was playing the part of panacea to a supposedly dysfunctional email system, Google’s right hand was busy convincing us to hate email. Remember when Google decided to do an old-fashioned shotgun wedding of Google Buzz and Gmail? They also placed each person’s buzz stream onto their Google Profile.

It wasn’t a big deal, though. If you didn’t like Google Buzz in your Gmail or Google Profile, all you had to do was delete your Google Profile. Oh, thanks!

Email Isn’t Broken

Email may not be perfect, but it’s not broken. I prefer email over phones, social networks, and texting. It allows me to respond in my own time, keep a clear record of what was said, and is very lightweight. It also supports the transmission of events, images, audio, and other data items.

If I want to share an email message with more than one person, I simply add their names and forward it to them. If I want to talk openly about a topic, and allow anyone to join in, I use a social network like Twitter, or a more controlled social environment, like Facebook.

If I want to collaborate on a document, spreadsheet, or other file, I use Google Docs. I can also invite someone to share the document with me, by having an email message sent to them.

Separation Is Good

There’s a reason why all of these services are separate, and it’s not because they’re broken. They’re separate, because that’s how people think and work. I have a personal email account for my personal use, and I have a work email account for my work. The same is true with Twitter, Google Docs, and other online services. I don’t want everything to meld together into some sort of nonsensical message stream. Especially one that can be seen by any random bozo at any time.

It Needed Third-Party Apps

Like Twitter, Google Wave needed third party apps. The underlying engine that ran Google Wave seemed great, but I hated the user interface. If more innovative people had created Web apps and native apps for Google Wave – in a way that re-visualized how it could work – then I think it could have had a fighting chance.

Innovate on What Works

Email works, so why not make it better? If the problem that Google was trying to solve was to allow people to collaborate on topics and messages, then adding the ability to invite more people into an email thread would have solved that problem. For example, a simple share option in Gmail could update the recipients of the threaded messages, and also provide invitees with past messages to get them up-to-speed. There would be no new interfaces to learn, and it would be built into a system that already works.

Threads could also adopt the idea of owners, and only owners could invite new people to participate in the email thread. This approach could be a Gmail-only solution, but it could also be submitted as a standard, with the hopes that other software makers would consider adopting it.

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2 Responses to “Google Wave Created More Problems Than It Solved”

  1. Marc Levy

    Great piece mate. Couldn’t agree more with most it, especially email not being broken! If anything Google are doing a great job with Gmail – I have Gmail for my personal email, Google Apps for business and added into that are add-ons such as tasks, calendar, one click to GDocs, chat and more.

    I now have Gmail hooked into etacts… it really is turning into a complete solution that looks like it can only get better.

    Lets face it Wave was terrible… the video introduction they made was awesomely incredible and then the product just sucked.

    Take it easy Jon

  2. Jay Marshal

    Good post but I think Google Wave is a great tool! Yes it has it’s own issues and it’s not perfect but in some cases it is incredible collaboration tool. I think Google shouldn’t close the project. They got to give it time to grow thru open source community.
    But this is only imho.