Google Wave, Poorly Understood and Underused, Dies in Infancy

Google Wave

Google Wave was announced to great fanfare at Google's I/O 2009 conference. It sounded promising, a melange of new-world communication protocols—somewhere between an email and a chat room, but more real-time than either. Could this be Google's killer social media app, overtaking Twitter and Facebook?

But the warning signs were evident from the start. Wave proved extremely difficult to explain. I found it impossible to describe what the service was in unambiguous terms. I found myself ignoring Wave in favor of traditional instant messaging and clearer, though less capable, media like Campfire chat. It required many suggestions on how to use it, and grew slowly.

So it's not surprising that Google officially axed the project today. Wave never took off in any significant numbers, in large part due to Google's failure to position it properly. ZDNet notes that Wave might have lasted longer had it been integrated into Gmail, as Google Buzz was, rather than sequestered on its own page. I don't know if that's true—I think the product itself was just too complex to really catch on—but there's a reasonable point to be made. Wave had potential that was never reached.

Google will keep Wave live at least until the end of the year, and has already made the code behind it freely available. But the company has officially finished developing for the platform, and that very likely marks its death. So long, Wave. We hardly knew ye—and that was the problem.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco Brooklyn (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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  • Marianna

    It all comes down to how Google builds products today. I was always wondering about their internal structure and recently had a pleasure being interviewed and interview one or their Product Manager Yuri. He told me that ideas are born from inside and to put a project on a run all you need is to convince your geeky team members that idea is good. Idea wouldn't normally move anywhere without a prototype, so people (which is $$ in most traditional businesses) are put to develop a prototype. Prototype then is spread across other geeks in a company, and if they find it cool, then app is built and launched. According to Yuri, marketing as we know it, does not really participate in such endeavors. If geeks find it attractive, everyone should to.

    Google Wave, I can imagine it must have been built in a similar way. Last year one of the developers presented the app at the Conestoga College that I attended. He showed how it worked and then asked the audience of 50 people what they would use it for. He received no answer. In return, when we asked him what he thinks it is useful for and he said they are still trying to figure it out. Based on this article, ultimately, not too many people figured it out.

  • Hotrao

    Well, is the end of Google in social networking? I don't think so, but is a big stop for Google on this area.

    Of course the Big G is telling that can reuse part of the work done and that is part of company culture to learn from failures.

    But a failure like this is difficult to understand, because ruins in part the quite perfect track record held by Google.

    It is difficult to explain why those who created Google mail, Google Docs, Google earth and so on where not able to create something usable and appealing.

    When I first tried Google wave I really had difficulties to understand what was the real use and potential: this is uncommon in Google applications which are often brilliant examples of "do something and do it well".

    I think the problem could have been in trying to put everything in one place, creating some confusion.

    I hope that Google reenters in social networking market with something more attractive and understandable, because can be a good player against Facebook predominance.

  • Jill Ruchel

    I can't believe they've trashed it. I loved it and use it all the time. It's fantastic for collaboration with people off site, and as most of my work relationships are virtual, it was perfect. The earlier versions had some weaknesses, but now I find it wonderful.

    I think it was designed for the new era virtual worker, and not enough people are doing that yet. Only drawback I found was that it doesn't integrate well with google docs. Vale Google Wave

  • NoahRobischon

    Gina Trapani's theory is that shuttering Wave was really a resource re-allocation move for Google. All those engineers are being put on Google Me instead - and Wave features will start to appear in lots of different apps. What do you think?

  • Ingjerd Jevnaker

    A real pity to axe the project before people have gotten around to use it. What they should have done was to integrate it into Gmail....or the nice people at LinkedIN. People who are active users of GMAIL do not want to use two different systems for communicating and collaborating.

  • matt_biskup

    I tried to use this for business collaberation. The UI was awful. It's a good idea to kill products that aren't catching on, but to do so because your team totally missed the mark implementing a good idea means you have the wrong team, you're not listening to your customers, or both.

    I'm a big Google fan and power user. Wave's implementation stunk.
    - jerky screens while typing
    - not optimized for long posts - why not?
    - inability to remove someone from a wave
    - no file sharing
    - required a separate login from gmail
    - needed the features that other Google apps have, but they never made it over to Wave

    I could go on. I still think they're on to something but this was a really poorly executed project.

  • David McInnis

    I agree entirely. You left one out. No alert mechanism other than the notifier app for my Mac. I had to be proactive about checking the wave. It kind of sucked. Tighter integration with gmail would have saved the service for me.

  • Andrew Sittermann

    It's a real shame. The real-time multi-user apps supported by wave have a great future. We have a Google Wave travel-planner called "Travel WithMe",
    and people love the real-time experience.

    Sensing that wave might not be going places, we've put it on facebook now as well, but still with Google Wave's realtime features. It's at

  • Gustaf Redemo

    I too liked it. I tried people to get involved but nobody really did. I think one of the problems is that there are too many platforms to communicate. When one has to choose he rather goes with the stuff he's used to.

  • Sarah Doody

    As Dan said, Google Wave failed to gain traction because of Google's failure to position it correctly. Wave was positioned to be everything to everyone. However, consumers don't respond to that too well, it leaves too many options. And, in a day when we are overwhelmed with options, consumers shouldn't have to decide how to use your service.

    The challenge that Wave faced may have been avoided had Google chosen a certain audience and use case for the product, and then targeted to consumers, group by group, by use case. Examples could have been things like plan a vacation or write a business plan. By bringing context to the service, Wave may have had a better chance.

  • Lara Fabans

    I had so many uses for this with my mastermind group, with my clients, with my classmates, but unfortunately, Google never approved the request to sign them up. It's lame to provide a collaboration tool but not the ability to add in the people.

  • Tatawan Plengsirivat

    It didn’t seem as intuitive as most people are used to; it took some digging around to figure it out. Also many of the people I Gchat with were not on it, which also limited its appeal. I didn’t like how you were only able to use it on Chrome, I use explorer at work where I spend most of my time online. Sure it was cool to be one of the first to have it, but none of my friends used it and if forced you to use chrome, which was something, I hardly ever use. Back to the drawing room Googlers!

  • Thom Mitchell

    The lack of stability was the breaking point for me. I found Microsoft Groove, now Sharepoint Workspace to be a far more scalable solution for work collaboration.

  • Lars-Christian Elvenes

    I had the same feeling when I saw the first demo last year. It looked amazing.

    A couple of reasons I think Wave failed are
    1) I experienced it more as a business collaboration platform than as a social networking platform. I've recently created a couple waves related to two projects I working on, and I think it will be brilliant for this work, but it's really the first time I've found a use for it that I didn't have elsewhere. For people who don't have the collaboration need in business that Wave offers, there might not have been much incentive to get involved.

    2) When first launched there where too many bugs, problems, and lack of features. I don't mean to say Google should have waited and tried to release a perfect product, but a bit more polish might have helped. Thinking of Wave as a social networking platform, the early release might have worked, but as a business collaboration platform, there were too many problems initially, and I believe that's part of the reason people didn't sign up.

    - Lars-Christian Elvenes, Norway

  • NoahRobischon

    Another factor: The invitation-only launch plan, as Dave Winer points out today in his story (

    For a long time it was a hot invitation, and that created a lot of buzz for Google, but the inability to find and add your friends or coworkers also helped speed Wave's demise.

  • scott griffis

    I saw Google demo this a while back and was amazed. It seemed so powerful I couldn't wait to for it to be released. Then when it finally was I signed up and was dissapointed. It seemed like just another service to enter my personal info into and all the great features were hidden somewhere and not well explained. It feels like an e-mail client that is difficult to use. Now if someone who works in the Internet industry has a hard time visualizing how to use this, how will anyone else?

    Google had a great idea, but did a poor job with the executing, roll out, and advertising. Hopefully they have learned, but I kinda doubt it.