I love the way Wave doesn’t just build on what went before but starts over. --Tim O'Reilly
Wave was Google’s real-time communication platform. When it was released in 2009, Google described it as “what email would look like if it were invented today.” Some people agreed, but the majority did not, and Google turned out the lights this past April. Nonetheless, Wave remains a fascinating idea, and much of it lives on in applications we use today and will use tomorrow. Let's take a look.
Wave, in a complicated nutshell:
It really seems to focus on contacts – on people – which we feel is the direction communication is taking. --Ben Parr
A wave is a threaded conversation between a group of people. You can think of it as a wiki that multiple people are editing live, or as a chat room where anyone can amend anyone else’s chat, fork chats, and reply to individuals within the chat. Waves were housed in a structure fairly similar to Gmail’s, with folders, search, and drag-and-drop attachments. Waves also had Gadgets, apps that can be used by all users in a given wave, and Robots, automated participants that serve a specific function, eg pulling in Twitter data. Wave’s synchronous, group-focused nature and easy document sharing made it a much more efficient collaboration tool than email. Add to that Wave’s extensibility (developers could build apps within waves), and its innate openness (anyone could embed a wave anywhere, and the code was open source), and you had the makings of a real game changer. Alas.
Why Wave failed:
If your product definition has the word "AND" in it, you're in trouble. --Benjamin Nortier
In short, it was too much, too clunkily. I think Benjamin Nortier nailed it when he wrote that Wave’s biggest downfall was conflating “communication” and “collaboration.” The former is a rectangle, the latter, a square. Wave handled collaboration, and communication based around collaboration, beautifully. What it didn’t, and likely couldn’t handle well was basic conversation. Many users found found the UI to be ugly and cluttered, the non-linear message threads dizzying, and were confused by the plethora of thread-specific add-ons.
But, hope springs eternal
I got the idea for this post after noticing a fair amount of Wave nostalgia in the blog- and -twittospheres. Luckily, not every Wave fan is content to sit back on his wistful haunches. Below, some platforms and services that incorporate aspects of Wave.
Google Plus: You could argue that Wave didn’t die--it just grew up (some do). But while Google Plus shares Wave’s group-centric emphasis, it lacks Wave’s democratic editing, apart from on documents, and feels more like a multi-media content broadcast than a communication tool.
Fluent: Last year, three ex-Wavers tried to build an email client that, among other features, reimagined Wave’s threads as streams. Over 70,000 people signed up for the waitlist, but Fluent was ultimately yanked, due to difficulty of implementation and a low ROI forecast.
Rizzoma: Like Wave, Rizomma turns a chat into a document that can be collaboratively edited. Unlike Wave, that’s all it does. Which is a good thing, probably.
And, if you still want to try the real deal, you can, mostly. Apache took over Wave this summer, and turned the standalone client into Wave in a Box. The codebase still needs to be matured, but you are welcome to use and/or add to it as you see fit.