I should note at the top of this post that I have not received an invitation for Google Wave. I haven’t seen the platform in action – other than a few screen shots that various bloggers and media have shared. I haven’t spoken to anyone directly about Google Wave or its functionality yet. But even without any of that direct, first-hand knowledge of what Google Wave is designed to do, I know it will fail.
Why? Because the expectations that Google has set (or that have been set for them by the public) are way too high. The promise is that Google Wave will redefine online communications. It will replace email. It will elevate our ability to connect to eachother, and for the community to have an impact on society – whether its solving serious social issues, fixing journalism, or whatever. I suspect that if I said Google Wave can eliminate nuclear weapons, heal the sick, AND make Jay Leno funny, people would believe me.
You know what… it can’t be that powerful. When you set expectations that high, there is nowhere to go but down.
First, Google Wave can’t redefine online communications is because no single tool, or set of tools, has that kind of power. Technology facilitates communications, it doesn’t define it. We define communications. People do. We look for information that is relevant, timely and compelling to us and our lives. We look for experiences that are interesting or valuable for us to be a part of. We buy (or borrow, or steal) stuff that we value. But technology — that just makes it easier to get information, experiences, and stuff. So while the tools are helpful, and new, robust, powerful sets of tools like those that are promised with Google Wave will certainly impact the way people get and share information with each other, you can’t assign the responsibility for changing communications to a set of tools.
Second, Google Wave can’t redefine online communications because nothing has that kind of power any more. Back in the day when access to information was controlled by a few institutions, and the public’s options were limited, major shifts were possible. Today, when everyone has the ability to be their own media company – to create, consume and share information as they see fit, big changes are virtually impossible to come by. We don’t all follow the same information patterns. We don’t demonstrate the same habits. We don’t use the same tools. And even in the cases where there are millions upon millions of people using the same channel or platform (like Facebook), all those users have different expectations and use the tools in different ways. Google Wave may attact a lot of interest, and people may choose to use these news tools at the expense of some of the existing ones that are available, but it won’t be a massive shift that everyone begins to follow. There is no way.
The world is changing, quickly and dramatically. Technology and the internet play a big role in that. But the technology is not what drives change in our society. And Google Wave, at the end of the day, is just another set of tools. It will be exciting and valuable, I am sure, but we should (and they should) lower our expectations a bit about what it will do in our society.