I’ve found the recent commentary on Google’s decision to shut down Google Wave rather entertaining, and sometimes annoying. For several reasons. Here are a few:
- I wasn’t impressed with Wave in the first place. I watched the big overblown video announcement at Google I/O, and I was excited at the time, but amidst all the hype and chatter about how “exciting” it was, I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was. What is Wave? What does it do? Why should people care? None of these questions were answered sufficiently in that initial release, or soon enough afterwards.
- Accessibility. If I even understand it correctly, you needed to have a Wave account and so did the people you wanted to communicate with as well. This is fine in one perspective (social media applications like Facebook and Twitter do this), but it prevented Google from accomplishing their stated goal of completely “replacing email.” The big reason why email is one of the most popular uses for the web is that it’s so universal. When I send an email to someone, I don’t necessarily know what email client he or she is using, and I don’t care, because it doesn’t affect me. But the limitation that Wave had would be the equivalent of my only being able to email other @mac.com users with my @mac email address, which is worthless.
- Google Wave was touted as being an “email killer.” What? Anything deemed a fill-in-the-blank “killer” is doomed to fail. There is no demand for product “killers.” There’s only a demand for “killer products.” Did consumers start using Google because it was a “Yahoo killer”? No. Did kids sign up for Facebook because it was a MySpace killer? Nope. People aren’t sitting around, working on their computers and thinking “This application sucks. I sure wish someone would create a new application to kill this one.” That’s ridiculous. People sign up for programs only if they’re cool and they work well. Think about your own use: when was the last time you signed up for anything because it was a product killer? I’m a Mac user, and I love to brag about how the Mac platform is a zillion times better than Windows (and it really is), but I’d never call Mac a “Windows killer.” Geez, I work in a strange industry. People in tech say really weird things sometimes. It’s like sensationalist journalism that thrives on overblown hype and manufactured outrage to try to sell a story.
- Lack of demand. Years ago, Google Maps was such a massive hit because there was a huge demand for it. People had a need for it as soon as it came out (and even before then, actually). Google Wave, on the other hand, failed because there wasn’t demand for it, and people just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was too ethereal. Seriously, what on earth was it? In the video of the launch, they said it was “email, if it was invented today.” What? Email wasn’t invented today, and people are too used to using email as it is. They’ve been using it—largely unchanged—for almost twenty years. It’s the most popular service on the entire internet. You aren’t going to change that one time, in one release, with one product. Not even Google can do that.
- Unattainable. Google’s model of having invitation-only access to a program right after launch is a good idea, and gets people excited, but prevents mass-scale adoption, which would be necessary in order to take on a challenge as huge as re-thinking email. The whole idea was far, far too ambitious.