You probably know that Google has recently announced that they were stopping development for Google wave, and indeed after the initial buzz and all the hype that surrounded wave when it was launched, interested faded rapidly.
Why did that happen ? I mostly agree with this post: Why Google Wave “failed”.
When users need to say things like “To understand what Wave is, you have to either use it or watch the video; it’s impossible to explain“, you should know that something is wrong with your product. To survive and proliferate, products need a clear purpose that everyone can understand.
It doesn’t mean that Wave’s purpose was not smart or that it didn’t have any usefulness, but it could mean that Wave was too much in advance for its time. There are a lot of examples of inventions that didn’t prove successful when they were first published, but only later when the time was ripe for it. If you tried to explain what Twitter is no more than 20 years back, I bet you’d have the same difficulties in communicating Twitter’s purpose than Google had trying to explain what Wave was.
E-mail is so popular because it’s simple: self contained messages sent back and forth between individuals, forming conversations. But these conversations have limits that Wave tried to lift: not real-time, no central archiving, no plugin, little automation… unfortunately, a wave is both too similar and too different from an e-mail conversation for most people to see a clear benefit.
But this alone can not explain Wave’s lack of success; there were also some bad choices in UI design. Google is (was?) well known for its spartan yet functional UI design, which is exemplified in Google Search for example or GMail. No fancy animations or drag and drop or big icons, just functional buttons, at the exact right position, with the exact right size and font so that you’re not distracted from your goal.
Wave was the exact opposite: unintuitive and confusing interface, with minimizing frames (why on earth?), trying too hard to unify concepts (my settings is a wave? come on!). I’m sure that after receiving their long-awaited invitation, most users connected once, tried to figure it for a while and then gave up and never came back. I’d be curious to know the stats…
Anyway, I’m sure that Wave will resurface in one form or another, because it is a response to one of the biggest challenges of communication these days: the scattering of information and ways to communicate. The need is there, just waiting for the right product when the time is ripe…