back to article Google's Wave flop: Spare us the warm fuzzies

Google's Wave has crashed, but the trick for Google is to learn the right lessons from its failure. Some suggest that Google Wave displays Google's willingness to innovate at the risk of failure, which likely gives the search giant warm fuzzies. Instead, I believe it reveals the ways in which Google can improve its third-party …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "This is where Google Wave went wrong. It didn't abide by Google's developer playbook."

    Shirley where Google went wrong was in developing something that nobody wanted?

    1. Alastair 7

      Seems like negative thinking

      As said in the article, new innovations come along all the time. People don't necessarily "want" them until they can see the benefits. Google Wave definitely had some interesting benefits, but most people (like you, it appears) were blind to them, because Google confused the message.

  2. Rogerborg

    Seems a bit wordy

    Reason for failure: your mother doesn't understand WTF it is, or why she needs it.

    The name doesn't give any hints about what it is, and Google has done a piss poor job of marketing it. Seriously, have a look at:

    FAIL. Your mother already has Facebook, Twitter, email and IM. Nothing on that page gives any hint about why Wave is better or why she should use it.

    They should have called it GBook, then maybe - maybe - your mother might have tried it. Better luck next time, boffins.

  3. DrXym Silver badge

    Google Wave just didn't make any sense

    Open Google Wave and it's hard to see any obvious reason to use it. You could create a document, or a meeting, or a discussion, but people already have tools for those things. Familiar tools like email, IM etc. What is the point of Wave again?

    I think Wave would have had a lot more success if Google had thrown in free conferencing abilities and perhaps screen sharing. Then people would have a compelling reason to use it. As it is... meh.

  4. Mike S

    Where is "OpenWave"

    I run my own email - nobody outside of my ISP (easy to switch) or ICANN (not likely) can stop me.

    Why would I want to put all that energy into developing for or switching to a service which Google could pull the plug on at their slightest whim?

    Google should have worked on disseminating an "OpenWave" reference server - everything you need to run your own Wave. (Of course, storing all of that Wave data is something only Google could do on a large scale, so they'd have little real competition. But people like to know that there are alternatives.)

    Once there were some early adopters running their own Wave's, people could potentially have seen the benefits and started looking to adopt Wave. And those people would have flocked to Google.

    1. paul-s

      Erm, Need A Clue?

      This is *exactly* what Google, very publicly, aimed to do from the start.

      1. Mike S

        so where is it then?

        Its one thing to say you aim to do it. Its another thing to do it.

    2. James Woods

      you might want to

      review the board members of ICANN and Arin.

      I doubt anyone cares about small projects but if what your doing is on a larger scale look at the board member before you attack large corporations because the board members for Arin/ICANN are large corporations:)

      And im sure the plug could somehow accidentally get pulled on either your site(s) or you in general.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    A title is....

    I tried it a few times. They took long enough approving new users that there was no way to keep anyone's attention focused on it.

    Me: Hey, let's try that new Google Wave thing?

    They: What's that?

    Me: Some new email thing.

    They: Sure send me an invite.

    Me: Sends invite.

    They: Waits, waits, waits.

    We: Goes on with our lives and forgets the whole business.

  6. Blue Pumpkin

    Your way of working isn't everybody's way of working ..

    In the 80's in DEC (remember them ?) VaxNotes was THE way that the company collaborated. Sure there was email too, and other technologies (VTX anybody ?) but Notes was the way to find stuff and get information.

    Unlike web sites (which came much later) it had history, threads, archiving, moderators and the like. It lacked graphics - but who cared when all you had was a VT100 (or VT220 if you were lucky ! )

    Although DEC tried to sell it, very few companies managed to use it in such as successful a manner as its creator. Even when it went off to become Lotus Notes and on to IBM, with integrated mail and documents and all the rest, it still never inspired the enthusiasm and take-up of the original (having been through several organisations who tried to use it).

    It looks like Google Wave is suffering from the same - it has a place, a time and a corporate culture. But once it gets outside into the big wide-world, there is no corporate culture, ecosystem or technical capability that makes it compelling compared to what is already out there ...

  7. Joshua Goodall

    overlong article missing the point

    Given that the underlying protocol was a real-time federated social publish/subscribe service, they'd have been better off making the front end a Facebook killer. Instead they faffed about trying to make it a multimedia Instant Messenger, only one you have to visit a website to use and that didn't work in IE. Oops.


    Well engineered but poorly productised and didn't work for nongeeks. Or even geeks at nongeek workplaces.

    = Fail.

    Oddly reminds me of Sun Microsystems.

  8. DS 1
    Thumb Up


    Wave was really just the framework. To be blunt, it only came to life via a robot or a function. And the loose nature of these meant you had a blizzard of things, and did not know which was good bad or indifferent.

    Fundamentally, Google Wave is and was a stunning piece of groupware, but you are not allowed to take it to a group, it has to be web aware. Thus google needed a federqated server-let that anyone could have-and this federation area is still a tricky area for the dev.

    So cuttying to the chase, Google should not kill it. Embed what it is now into the google fabric and leave it up as an interesting thing people may use and develop for. The in google dev cut, well fair enough.

    In its use, they should have been paying and cherry picking really good function and robots and selling those hard to the userbase. Some of the robots and functions were really outstanding. Multiplayer games like chess reside wonderfully in the environment and its still an amazing conference/groupware tool lo9ved by many people, schools and others.

    The fact people have not quite figured out what to use it for is not the issue here. The issue is that a lack of direction and now death has been the subscription, and its the wrong one. Think of this a bit like an early browser lacking pages and content, - that is not a good reason to kill the browser.

    I think google can keep their decision to not invest heavily any more in the in house development of it. I sincerely hope that in fact they support what it is and decide to leave it running as a perm google thing. I know as many people used it and like it as people who took the other view. I think everyone's use of this, the development of it, and its usage is still in the womb stage and it is a mistake took actually terminate it come end of 2010.

  9. Adam T


    "It required a complete refactoring of how one thinks about communication."

    What? A chat program with rewind buttons, and it lets multiple people write on the same page in an initially novel, but ultimately messy, mash-up of too-many-cooks?

    I know plenty of annoying people who think just like that.

  10. Mark Dowling


    "while MMS is only eight years old and has 1.9 billion active users."

    Really? I don't know anyone who uses MMS at all. Email, SMS and BBM, sure, but MMS?

    Just wondering what "active" classifies as - ability to send, or actually sending.

    1. RegisterThis

      From what I hear from operators ...

      MMS uptake is ... on the up ... probably due to a combination of factors.

      Interestingly, the one factor driving it is that the rise in smartphones that have supported better mobile email and multimedia experience, has made people aware of the possibilities of content sharing from 'phones'. The irony is that being aware of the idea of sharing content from your phone as a result of better mobile email (attach), people are now realising that in some situations, MMS provides a better solution.

      For historical reasons, most peoples phones are still dominated by (surprise) phone numbers and not email addresses attached to all their contacts - and MMS allows the content to still be sent even when you do not have the other persons email address Also, where the recipient does not have push email or is known to not check their email often, MMS is more immediate.

      Personally, I think my MMS usage has probably doubled each of the last 4 years ... not sure it will grow much more, but it definitely has a role for sharing pictures quickly of what you are seeing (in the absence of truly reliable mobile broadband for usable real-time streaming!)

  11. Robert E A Harvey

    How about 'It was a bad idea'

    The permanent recording of conversations, ideas, sketches, contributions can have it's use. In the right place. The number of cases where this is true is remarkably small.

    It seems to me that most people don't want, or need, an unchanging record of low-content, dynamic, social interactions.

    Then there is the reviewing issue. We all know what happens when you archive all the emails and documents from even the simplest project. *You never go back and look at them again* . Big projects can end up with so much data that you can never find anything in it at all. Wave offered us massive, daunting, backlogs of impenitrable drivel for everything we did.

    I'm trying to have a zen life, with as few material posessions as possible, and as little data. I didn;t _need_ wave to do anything at all.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm sad that wave crashed, and I think that it could be a great thing in work environments. If you get roped into a thread involving outlook or gmail users through the power of cc, it's hard to figure out what's going on. My eyes literally hurt when they are confronted with a tangle of > signs nested 20 levels deep. If an old-school internet denizen ropes you into a thread, this issue doesn't come up because they've helpfully edited out all the context you need to understand what the fuck is going on.

    Wave is a system that promises to preserve and properly render all context and to make top-posting a thing of the past. But, if all your wave conversations take place independently of email, nobody has the right to act surprised when wave breaks against the shores of real communications.

  13. -tim

    They left out devices

    I think one of Waves strongest application would have been for B2B type conversations between automatic systems combined with robots that would scan the data and turn it into useful snippets for humans.

  14. wgae

    Google are Product Marketing Kings - not!

    I think the core question is - why is Google unable to successfully launch any new product? And I am talking about NEW products, not the long list of acquisitions (I know that they have successfully purchased companies, e.g. Blogger, Youtube, Doubleclick).

    And the answer is: they lack decent Product Marketing skills. Sure, the people they hire may be top-notch product marketing managers, but they just don't know how to apply those skills to Google, the company. All they can do is slap together a product that works and then launch it to the public for testing. They do not PLAN the product launch, and they do not market the product using classical ways (which includes serious concept testing in focus groups and closed user groups).

    For example, I would expect Google to intensely test each product prior to launch. And I know they do! So how comes, that there are spying cars that "accidently" record WLAN sessions? Because they were SET UP to collect that data. It was not a mistake. "Buzz" was launched with everybody automatically opted in. It is futile to tell the public that this happened "by mistake". And presto people and the press were up in arms. Why/how could this product be launched without anybody noticing?

    My take? Google is a one-and-a-half trick pony (search, text ads), and their product marketing is entirely clueless or a bunch of people that remain unheard by management. Their top management "listens to numbers" instead of real users, real focus groups, and real alpha tests. And should they talk to users, they probably talk to pure geeks and Google fan boys, not to the average guy. So it is understandable that Google don't have a clue and launch crap.

    Google? Fail.

  15. Asgard
    Big Brother

    Wave, another of Google's ultimately insidious ploys...

    As well as all the above reasons for Wave to fail, I have two additional reasons.

    The first is that there is and has always been a considerable aspect of Entrepreneurship helping to drive Internet changes. Its the modern day gold rush. That can be seen most clearly during the Dot-com boom, but its still very much here even now. A lot of Entrepreneurs will not want to share their latest and greatest ideas and creations with Google especially when they also have to be based on Google technology. The fear is that Google can just look over their shoulders so to speak and then think that's an interesting idea and then just copy the idea. Yes we can all dream Google will buy the idea, but they can just as easily just copy the idea and borg it into their corporation and give the original idea creator nothing.

    Blue Pumpkin makes a very good point about internal company culture and how that doesn't always translate into external culture. Google internally have this, share your ideas with us, attitude relentlessly brainwashed into all their employees, most noticeably in the idea that all employees get 20% of their time to work on their own ideas in Google time. That sounds (at first) like such a wonderful deal for the employees, they get to do so much fun stuff but in reality, if all these talented entrepreneurial programmers were working for other companies (or left to start companies), then Google would have to spend often millions for these ideas, from these programmers, whereas this way Google get these ideas for a fraction of the cost and the programmers are the ones who really loose out without ever realizing it. (Google really does fit the pattern of behaviour characterised as a Corporate Cult yet the employees don't see this while they work there (I've worked for Corporate Cults and I know how hard it is to see until you leave and go to a totally different company with a different internal culture)). Here's a good quick summary of Corporate Cults and their behaviour. Google fit this perfectly.

    The point is the Google Corporate cult internal company culture doesn't translate well into the real world. We are not all obedient slaves to the wishes of the Google directors to give them our ideas for their gain.

    The second additional reason against Wave is many users are also not brainwashed into giving Google all their data. Wave sounds way to much like cloud computing kind of thinking, where all our data is then held in this big (Google) cloud and Wave was a very clear attempt to convince more people to find more ways for Google to get more people's data into Google's servers. So they can then spy on all this data. We are not all going to fall for that insidious ploy Google.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ignore consumers, look for customers

    So I loved the idea of Wave when it first came out, but even I didn't use it much. Why? Because I had just taken voluntary redundancy from my employer, so was writing a book. None of my non-work friends had Wave, and those I sent invites didn't get them for a while, and there was never a critical mass in my circle of friends.

    I couldn't help but think how different if it had been launched at my old employer (a global IT consultancy) as a pilot: for corporate clients, using Wave/Docs to replace MS Office and more importantly, MS Outlook. For a business like IT consultancy reliant on knowledge sharing, multiple authors of documents and processes, and in which version control is of paramount importance, there would have been no question of Wave's utility.

    Pitching at the consumer market, even if those consumers were developers, was doomed to failure. Starting with a handful of key corporate clients, then getting others to sign up, creating familiarity (with a 'better' type of communication) through the workplace, then letting those workers transfer it to their personal lives - I suspect this might have worked better.

    I still think Wave could be worthwhile, but it would need to be relaunched, and it's target audience chosen more carefully.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    There is an ad on the right of this story which says "Mobile App Developers, download the windows 7 mobile SDK now".

    Since i am curious i clicked to given a download of vm_web.exe which i immediately said no to.

    No wonder there are so many clueless users out there when downloading random exe files is acceptable behaviour!!!

  18. Jay Daley

    A different kind of ambition

    Google blew it because they only shipped half a product and every developer with any sense spotted that straight away.

    The crucial missing bit is a client-server protocol, despite it being obvious that Google has written one for their own client. The impact of that is to crudely, very crudely, push developers towards writing server add-ons (robots etc) because that is the path of least resistance. Anyone wanting to innovate at the client has to write some serious code before they get anywhere near innovation.

    To make it even worse, the Google Wave client is closed and designed around a single communications paradigm that has little relevance to most people. The contrast between the open server and the tightly controlled client could not be more noticeable.

    If Google really wants Wave to be a success then it would take very little effort, open the client and the c-s protocol and let people develop innovative ways to use the server, but that is clearly not the intent. Google's decision to kill Wave speaks volumes about Google. Not about their willingness to take risks though, but about their unwillingness to lose control even if that means the project dies and their reputation suffers.

  19. s1sfx

    Radical change is never incremental change

    Quote: "Much as it may want to radically change the world for users and developers, radical change generally happens over time, through a series of incremental, unexceptional edits to existing technology and processes."

    That's simply not true. Radical change, by its very nature, happens overnight and is never related to incremental changes. That would be incremental change!

  20. James Woods

    corporate america makes alot of junk

    that nobody wants and that alot of people never even heard of.

    Google got lucky with it's advertising, but that only occurred because they are intertwined with the government and are able to do things other companies would only dream of doing.

    When google sees a potential road block or competition it either sues, buys, threatens, or shakes the company up to the point they don't exist anymore.

    We can take a look at what google has given the wold so far and then you can ask yourself why this wave didn't work.

    Gmail - free e-mail, right. Also a free way for google to read your e-mails and find out exactly who you are and what your into. Also a way for them to come out with Buzz and share all your contacts. There is a price for free e-mail

    Google Search - well, this is a no brainer. Just like with any other google application your logged into or tracked by a central google database that will serve you ads based on what your into or your e-mail or whatever else you do since google tracks everything about you. Kinda makes the search page look like a teddy bear until you realize what's under the hood of it.

    You can say the ad tracking covers the cost of providing the free services however the methods used to obtain the ad tracking metrics would never happen under another company without anti-trust issues that would cripple them.

    Im not sure what else google has that people use. One day they might find themselves on the odds of an administration here in the US and if that occurs google might be packing up a uhaul and heading for some other planet because they've done ruined their no evil reputation over here.

  21. mhenriday
    Thumb Up

    Matt Asay is probably right about incremental change being preferable -

    particularly when dealing with a base as large as that of email users, which, if I'm not entirely off base (pardon the pun), was the group to which Wave was directed. Still, I'd hate to see Google give up on revolutionary, non-incremental projects - these are necessary and, if human ingenuity doesn't utterly fail, bound to come, if not from Google than from other quarters. I suspect that the experiment with Wave, in which I participated as a (somewhat confused) user, has taught Google developers many things which will prove useful in other products, not least in further developments to Gmail, of which I am a (hopefully less confused) enthusiastic user. What I hope Google as a corporation will learn from the experience - I don't wish to call it a debacle, as I don't think it was that, even if it has been discontinued - is the need for much more testing out-of-house before releasing such products to the general public. The more revolutionary and creative, rather than incremental, these innovations, the greater the necessity of such testing. As one of them, I know that Google possesses a corps of enthusiastic «trusted testers» ; I hope that they make even more use of us the next time 'round !...


  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thirty nine years of email!!??

    My apologies for the long post, but the more I started wracking my brain to recall the past the more I wrote. This is by no means an authoritative diatribe on the advent of email, it is simply as I remember it all unfolding, I am sure there are inaccuracies or omissions that others will pick up on.

    Thirty nine years of email!? To the general public I think not. More like 15 but feels like 30.

    Email kind of/sort of started to be used and seen by the public (we're not talking university researchers and USENET here, we're talking the general public) when the first Remote CP/M BBSs came online, but even then these users were savy enthusiasts who more than likely had an acoustic modem and an S-100 BUS system that they cobbled together themselves, or perhaps an Apple 1 or newer Apple II, or even a dumb-terminal and that they could use to connect to the BBS with. These people were not your average Joe.

    When home computers like the Commodore 64, and Tandy's CoCo got into the game and computers garnered more mass-appeal, the popularity of BBSs spiked and e-mail STARTED to become a commonly used term by the average non-geek home-computer owner/user, usually the youngsters of the households which had such machines. At this point in time the IBM PC and its work-a-likes were still too expensive for all but hard-core enthusiasts or businesses. The larger businesses were rolling out Novell networks and implementing network courier email systems across their enterprises; something the average home user had no interest in nor budget for.

    Then, in 1994/1995 the Internet started to hove into view on the publics radar, made available to them by enterprising individuals who offered dial-up access. The Internet of course had been established for quite some time but was not readily available to the public at large. Email now started to come into the publics mindset, when e-mail spam started to appear

    So, after all that, it would seem that email, as it is now, only really came into popularity starting around 1994/1995 (give or take a year or two). Indeed in 1994 two lawyers from Phoenix named Canter and Siegel hired a programmer to write a script to post an advertisment to each USENET newsgroup. So thats15 or 16 years then, not 39, and USENET is not email.

    Wave failed, no surprise really, I always thought it was a really cool solution looking for a problem to solve.

    1. Escape Velocity

      Mass Observation != Existence

      I believe Matt was referring to the technology, not the market penetration, when he referred to '39 years of e-mail'.

      For all its shortcomings, the Wikipedia article on SMTP does have decent origins information for you:

      Matt is just about right with his 39 year estimate if you consider SMTP to be the core of 'e-mail' (which most techs would).

      Sure, my Mom knew nothing about it until 1995, but she's nobody's hacker.

  23. uninventiveheart

    I'll be honest...

    I was curious as hell about it. I tried Voice and loved it, and I figured Wave would be as useful.

    Except it wasn't. While new communication tools need to serve a function first before they're made, I was hoping for the opposite to be true: new advancements can be made absent of function that will find a role itself. I knew it was a long shot, but I did it anyway. It was fun for two weeks, until all of us on Wave asked at once... "Okay... what now?"

    I don't think Open Source will carry Wave along as an ideal single communication tool, as much as it will gut Wave of it's individual parts to add it's features and functions to other open-source projects who could use them.

  24. Yautja_Cetanu


    An exceptional analysis again :P!

  25. Tom 13

    Wave? Haven't heard of it until now.

    Or at least I don't remember hearing about it. So I haven't used it either. If they were really pushing this I should have. Or maybe they did and with the cock-up that was Buzz, I wrote it off as a re-labeling push and put it out of my mind. Or maybe they've Borged so much already that I am reluctant to look at anything new they do, because I don't want them borging anything else. Being a conservative American, I'm big on decentralizing power. Google haven't been doing that recently.

    Those are the reasons they failed and none of them has a magic bullet fix.

  26. Giles Jones Gold badge


    Nobody is going to want to give time and code to Google and not get anything back in return. Maybe if you're rich already and have nothing better to do.

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