So Long, Wave, But You’ll Live On In Your Successors

Google (s goog) has decided to pull the plug on Wave, its innovative collaboration and communication tool. That’s a shame, because it can actually be a pretty useful product — as long as you can actually figure out what to use it for — and it showcased some big, ambitious ideas.

I think that the main reason why Wave flopped is that it was too ambitious. It was pitched as a brand-new form of communication — the next email, even — and as a result it lacked focus and was a hard sell. People are busy, and they like products with clearly defined benefits — it’s very difficult to get them to try something new if they don’t know what it’s for. So even if you decided you wanted to give Wave a go, it was very tough to persuade friends and colleagues to sign up and try it out as well; using Wave by yourself isn’t much fun. If Wave had a much tighter focus — if it was pitched purely as a document collaboration and brainstorming tool, perhaps — it would have been easier to sell to users, although maybe it then wouldn’t have justified the amount of effort Google devoted to it.

However, it seems that over the last year, some people have figured out how to put Wave to use — in particular for collaboration. Maybe it hasn’t reached the tipping point of mass user adoption that Google was looking for, but there are significant numbers of people using Wave. As Wave is being killed off permanently (some of its features will live on as open source products, and parts of it will be used in other Google tools, like Docs), there’s an opportunity for startups to provide Wave-like features in more focused, easier-to-sell collaboration products.

Let’s take a look at some of Wave’s more useful features that I would hope to see popping up in other tools, particularly as Google has made parts of its code open source:

  • Drag-and-drop file handling. Wave allowed you to drag files and images and drop them right into your Wave, providing a much more intuitive, desktop app-like way of handling files than web apps traditionally allow. Thanks to HTML5, we’re already starting to see this kind of functionality popping up in other tools, like Gmail.
  • Live typing and playback. People adding content Wave had their updates relayed to other Wave users in real-time, which allows for live editing of documents and IM-like discussion within the tool. And as you can play back a Wave, you can see how the conversation/document has grown over time.
  • A hybrid document editing/discussion model. Wave is the first web app that I’ve seen that successfully manages to marry synchronous (think IM) and asynchronous (think email) communication. Wave was unique because unlike other tools that might allow comments within a document or tacked onto the end, with Wave, you can carry out a live discussion and document editing session with your team, all within one tool.
  • Keeping everyone in the loop. Wave provided a place to put everything (files, live documents, discussions) in on one place,which meant that is was easier to keep everyone automatically informed of updates and progress.
  • Providing an alternative to the “patchwork quilt” of web apps that many people use. By neatly packaging up a few different but related forms of communication into one tool, Wave sidestepped the “patchwork quilt” problem (where companies use a large number of different web apps to meet all of their needs).
  • Robots. Robots are automated participants within Waves. They can read the contents of a Wave in which it participates, modify the Wave’s contents, add or remove participants, and insert content into waves; they provide a novel mechanism for developers to add functionality to Wave.

Of course, besides being hard to figure out what to actually use it for, Wave had some other problems — once a Wave got reasonably large it became difficult to manage and find the content you’re looking for, for instance — but tighter, more focused tools that take some cues from Wave should be able to deal with those.

Personally, I never really got into Wave, partly because my collaborative efforts never really required it, but primarily because very few people I knew used it. But I do know that some people really did like using it, and I salute Google for having the guts to release such an ambitious and innovative product in the first place. So long, Wave, you’ll be missed by some, but your memory will live on in the tools that come after you.

What features do you think should be taken from Wave to live on in other web apps?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Google Wave Explained