Wipeout! Google Wave's inevitable crash

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Well, it seems that Google Wave isn't quite dead yet after all. Turns out, they're open sourcing a bit more of the project and asking for collaboration. (Ok, someone to take over.)

I can't be the only geek who immediately thought of Monty Python and the Holy Grail upon reading the announcement.

It's not that Wave wasn't a good idea. It was a great idea. And it's not that Wave wasn't technologically impressive. It had incredible potential. But despite Google's commitment to openness (remember Open Manifesto?), the company chose to play this hand close to its chest.

The gamble didn't pay off. Like many Google applications, Wave was launched as an invitation-only beta. Arguably, it worked for Gmail, but the same invitation-only beginning left Wave floundering. It's hard to use a tool designed for mass collaboration when you can't get enough invitations for everyone you'd like to collaborate with.

To anyone who used Wave, it was clear that it could well have been email's successor. But Google kept the source code tightly closed, frustrating interested developers. From the outside, it felt like the company was following their own “What not to do” plan:

“...[The traditionally trained MBA] is taught to generate a sustainable competitive advantage by creating a closed system, making it popular, then milking it through the product life cycle. The conventional wisdom goes that companies should lock in customers to lock out competitors.”

That's why Wave's inevitable crash seems so senseless. Google gets how open businesses find a competitive advantage--not by locking in customers, but by understanding a fast-moving system better than anyone else and using the knowledge the generate better, more innovative products. (That's lifted straight from Rosenberg's manifesto, by the way.)

Instead of opening up the project to outside developers when it held so much promise, Google is handing them some of the newly retired source code "in a box" and bidding Wave farewell. Let's hope something valuable can be salvaged.

We all make mistakes. But moving forward, Google, here's an open invitation to couple that 20% freedom with a stronger commitment to collaborate with the rest of us.

Rebecca Fernandez is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat, leading projects to help the company scale its open culture. She's an Open Organization Ambassador, contributed to The Open Organization book, and maintains the Open Decision Framework. She is interested in the intersection of open source principles and practices, and how they can transform organizations for the better.


I can't resist. I'm Waving bye-bye.

The buzz about Wave before I got to see it was so unfairly hyped (e.g. "Wow, Google has some unknown collaborative online thingie, it's supposed to be cool") that once I saw it, instead of a finding an innovation banquet I thought, "Where's the beef?" After several days trying to make a) sense of it and b) some practical use of it, I gave up. Perhaps I should've tried harder, but IMHO I think Google should've spent more time in Alpha before the over-hyped Beta. I don't think crowdsourcing is an alternative to skilled design and implementation.

If this is the next move ("Hand it to some open source developers, see if they can sort it out"), then I'm ready for the Wake.

I just plain didn't like the application :-). I couldn't find a reason to use it and everyone else I knew who was on it didn't seem to know what to do with it either. Google Wave seemed to fix a problem that few people seemed to have.

I agree that Wave is a great idea and I will miss it for a long time. Having said that, I disagree with your main contention that Wave died because it was closed to developers. In comparison, there is *nothing* more closed than Google's search engine technology, yet Google Search hasn't quite died off yet....

Wave's death is more logically attributed to a lack of popularity, although I cannot understand why that is.

...that Wave was a tool designed for collaboration. Search is more of a one-way transaction, but when you're going beta with a tool that is meant for people to share across, particularly technical people, it's hard for people to use it if it's not readily available to everyone and if users feel they have no ability to improve it.

I also suspect there was not enough clarity around what Wave was. I heard several Gmail users talk about how it appeared one day and they thought, "I wonder what this is supposed to do, some kind of Facebook thing?" They opened it up but didn't really "get" it, so they never explored it further.

Ah well. The postmortem analysis is always interesting.

I agree that wave had lots of potential. I really liked it, and i think it would helped small businesses, small offices also home offices and for sure the social ones.
I have to agree the lack of users to collaborate with did it in, am yet to be convinced Google pushed this product.
I really hope it will reincarnate someday.

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