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Google Wave and the Difficulty of Radical Change 179

cedarhillbilly writes "An article by Matt Asay in the Register takes on Google Wave from the perspective of visionary change versus incremental change. He suggests that visionaries should focus on smaller transformations of our day-to-day lives rather than leapfrogging. '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.' Perhaps Google sensed this when they famously said they were worried about having too many geniuses. Asay revisits the point that the open source development model necessarily builds on a community of contributors and users, and not the mad scientist in an ivory tower."
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Google Wave and the Difficulty of Radical Change

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  • Be radical. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 3vi1 ( 544505 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @01:56PM (#33326134) Homepage Journal

    >> He suggests that visionaries should focus on smaller transformations of our day-to-day lives rather than leapfrogging.

    Why can't they make something radical, then add on compatibility stepping stones for a transition period? Would Wave have been so unused if you could read your normal POP3 mail in it and intercommunicate with traditional IM systems?

  • Too many geniuses? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pedantic bore ( 740196 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:00PM (#33326182)

    Nobody who spent any time using Wave thought that the problems were due to too many geniuses in the mix.

    A real genius doesn't just show you a vision. A real genius creates a useful artifact that solves a problem of importance. We're not talking about art.

  • by TheoCryst ( 975577 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:00PM (#33326194)

    Google Wave didn't fail because it was "too innovative" or "too radical." History is jam packed full of inventions and technologies that succeeded precisely because they were drastically better than what came before them (lightbulb versus candle, car versus horse, calculator versus abacus, GUI versus CLI). Google Wave failed for a combination of reasons. It wasn't marketed well, it didn't really solve any problems, and it just wasn't "better" enough over the standard ways of browsing the web.

    Google Wave was a cool engineering project, but never should have been taken to market.

  • Re:Be radical. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:18PM (#33326352)
    Baby steps get you somewhere, leaps leave a lot of people behind. You need to nudge people to make the small changes ... and you have to rely on the young and the brave to try something new.
  • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) * on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:25PM (#33326410) Homepage
    "If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse." - Ford

    Sometimes projects swing and miss, let's not forget the dozens of promises made about Longhorn before it got scrapped and downsized, WinFS and whatnot; it wasn't as public but far more resources were wasted, and I expect Google has internal projects which come to nothing constantly as well..

    I don't think there are any great insights to draw from Google Wave; they worked on it, it got hyped up, it didn't catch on, bummer. Doesn't take a genius or a madman in an ivory tower for that to happen
  • Re:Be radical. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TarMil ( 1623915 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:25PM (#33326412)

    Would Wave have been so unused if you could read your normal POP3 mail in it and intercommunicate with traditional IM systems?

    This is the real deal. Wave was too far away from everything we know, and had too few links with the rest of the world. People accept radical novelties when they can blend in with what they are used to.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:31PM (#33326468) Homepage

    I think the main problems were:

    (a) It was unfocused. What were they trying to build, a replacement for email or a collaborative word processor? It wasn't really great at either. Take a lesson from Apple-- sometimes it's better for a product to do 3 things really really well than to do 10 things poorly.

    (b) The limited invite system is not a good way to launch a communications product that only works for talking to other people with that product. Invites worked for Gmail because you could still email everyone. Waves only worked with other Wave users, and there weren't very many of them. Google should have polished the system more and then launched big. If they made a big splash, they might have captured enough interest to keep it going. Instead everyone tried it out for a week or two, said, "this doesn't seem to be useful," and then they never looked at it again.

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:34PM (#33326490)

    Like the airplane?

    The powered airplane had it's first flight in December 1903, first military application in combat was 1911, mass use in warfare was 1914, so 11 years for it.

    Atomic weapons, patented 1934, first test July 16 1945, first combat use August 6 1945, mass production 1946.

    Radar, first operational radar system 1935, widespread use 1940.

  • Re:Be radical. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:03PM (#33326714)
    It wasn't an issue of being radical, it was an issue of it being a collaborative tool, restricted to a small number of people and lacking an obvious purpose. People don't generally learn to use a tool in case it becomes helpful later on, they learn to use it because they have an idea as to what to do with it. They might only need it for a theoretical contingency plan, but they at least have an idea what the purpose is. It's rare for something to take off just from random tinkering.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:14PM (#33326826)

    If people were "misusing" it it is because Google was doing a poor job in explaining how to use it the "right way" was.

  • Error in title (Score:3, Insightful)

    by heffrey ( 229704 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:43PM (#33327074)

    Should have been, "Google Wave and the difficulty of flogging stuff that's shit"

  • by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:50PM (#33327120)

    If you used it as a chat program then you misused it and shouldn't be suprised that it failed as a chat program. It was supposed to give people a way to collaborate on documents and projects.

    Are you sure about that?

    My impression was that it was intended to be a replacement for email, im, and other realtime communication systems on the net. It wasn't an app to help with projects or conversations; it was a protocol/server platform for messaging, just like the SMTP protocol and mailserver that makes up email, but more flexible. I think the idea was to replace email, IM, web forums, twitter, etc. all with one flexible, scalable platform that could handle new kinds of data, provide gateways to disparate systems (connect your IM to your SMS, or your webcam to your audio-only phone, for instance), and to make it all expandable by bots which could do automated processing of messages.

    It actually could have been very cool, but it was too big for the PITIFUL amount of weight google threw behind it. They didn't believe in their product. If they had, they would have built an exchange-killing open source mail/groupware server on top of it, which was fully backwards-compatible with Email, IM (including MSN as part of the exchange-killing thing), etc.

    THAT needed to be a radical product launch. None of this beta crap; a SOLID, powerful, game-changing release of free server code for everyone to install and use. Where the gradual change comes in is integrating their translation engine to make global communication possible, integrating google voice, integrating reader, and generally taking the world by storm by combining all their existing products into one great solution that had ZERO competition.

    Now that would have been radical. Launching a half-baked idea with a horrible web-ui and some code for a cut-down version that no one cared enough to look at? Not so much.

  • by Shillo ( 64681 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @04:05PM (#33327198)

    You nailed it on the head.

    Wave utterly depends on all your friends having it. At the same time, Google deployed it in the way that reliably prevented your friends from having it.

  • by dkf ( 304284 ) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @04:16PM (#33327288) Homepage

    If they made a big splash, they might have captured enough interest to keep it going. Instead everyone tried it out for a week or two, said, "this doesn't seem to be useful," and then they never looked at it again.

    I for one am not sorry to see it go. We tried it pretty heavily for about 3 months as a way of helping people across multiple sites do collaborative software development and deployment, and it's big problem was that it was extremely hard to find what you were looking for (ironic for a Google product!) or what had changed in a large Wave (several hundred messages, many of which were relatively large things like full stack traces). Perhaps we just didn't try it right, perhaps, but going back to email and wiki pages was a relief.

  • by lakeland ( 218447 ) <lakeland@acm.org> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @04:35PM (#33327412) Homepage

    Well, I disagree with you :)

    I think wave failed because it did not have a transition path.

    Wave is for collaboration, it was pretty much useless for just one person. Gmail interacts with any SMTP server so it was easy to grow organically. I think wave was a similar step above gmail as gmail was to webmail at the time. However wave made no real attempt to interact with legacy systems (even google legacy systems like gmail, google talk, google docs) and so with wave it was almost like joining a gated community and it quickly got boring...

  • by s1sfx ( 1883880 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @05:03PM (#33327598) Homepage

    I see no reason to discourage either radical new hardware nor radical new software. It will flower or perish on its own merits.

    Couldn't agree more! There is way too much "sticking a tail on it and calling it a weasel" going on anyway and way not enough REAL innovation. Which creates all these super-clumsy, over-inflated monstrosities that don't even do the job they're supposed to be doing properly any longer. Einstein said "When the solution is simple, God is smiling." That's real genius, nothing else will do!

  • by Spewns ( 1599743 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @07:32PM (#33328454)

    1. It failed because it had bad user interface design. There's nothing radical about that. In fact, it's all too common in projects run by most hackers and code monkeys aiming to make a "cool engineering project." The difference between those projects and Google Wave is there are people crammed up Google's bum, willing to call Google developers visionary geniuses whose efforts are beyond what mere mortals can comprehend instead of lambasting them as they would anyone else for lacking usability in their software.

    2. More importantly, it failed because Google intentionally made it fail. It was axed in less than three months of being public. Something very weird happened there, but who knows if we'll ever really know why.

    3. The best, most successful advancements in computing were done in leaps and bounds, not the safe, incremental nonsense brought on by the commercialization of computing in the 80's.

  • Re:Be radical. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kenwd0elq ( 985465 ) <kenwd0elq@engineer.com> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @07:43PM (#33328500)
    I _WAS_ an early adopter of Wave. It was an interesting concept - but nothing that existing programs didn't do just as well. Our office used it for a while, but it was just easier to use email.
  • by nomel ( 244635 ) <turd@ i n o r b i t . com> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @08:07PM (#33328606) Homepage Journal

    I can somewhat agree, but I think it was mostly releasing poor code that caused its death. To me, *the* biggest problem with wave was that it was virtually unusable for the majority of its life. If you reached near 50 edits, the page would begin to crawl and the whole timeline system would come to a standstill. Once you neared 100 blips, the typing would slow to a few characters per second...on a dual core system. Loading was into the 10 to 20 second range, and scrolling with their whole custom rubber band scroll bar became unbearable, well more so than it already was. The code was *horribly* unoptimized. This is why all of the heavy users that I knew, including myself, stopped using it. When they finally got around to making the interface something usable, we weren't interested anymore.

    Also, the whole lack of inline images (without searching for a bot), lack of gmail integration, and lack of blip management (copy, move, etc) was a real PITA.

  • by gig ( 78408 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @11:18PM (#33329304)

    Are you telling me an iPhone isn't radical? A desktop Web browser with a display 1/4 the pixels of the original Web browser and 1/8th the size, no mouse, no keyboard, no windows (the document floats inside the viewport), and holistic zooming is not radical? Yes, it is radical, but it is also usable.

    With Wave, Google got blinded by how pretty it is under the hood and forgot to design a user interface. Wave should have looked like Microsoft Word v5.1, it should have shown the user "replace your Word, Email, and Content Management System publishing workflow with me." Have you seen how a company puts up a typical Web page? Word documents going around in email, eventually being pasted into a CMS, it is a joke. If MS Office didn't suck it would have had Wave-like features by now and no CMS would be needed by Office users.

    Google needs humility. People think Apple is arrogant because they are great, but the truth is, they are great because they are humble. They did only one phone, and it took them 4-5 years to do it, working away totally in secret, iterating and testing and innovating. If Google was not so impressed with whatever they poop out, they would actually finish projects and make usable and successful products.

    Even in ads, why did Apple have to do iAds? Why didn't Google offer ads that don't look like shit, ads that take advantage of HTML5?

    How has Search improved in the past 5 years? How has it been made easier for the 90% of users who do not know how to use all the options like -term and site:foo.com and will never know that?

    So call a failure a failure. Wave is a failure.


  • by Flamekebab ( 873945 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @11:51PM (#33329424) Homepage
    I disagree strongly. Loads of people I've spoken to don't understand what to use Wave for. Those I've worked on projects with who have used it for something real, rather than just a conversation, quickly grasp how useful it is for collaborative projects. It shouldn't have been marketed as "for the public", at least not at first. Much like mobile phones gained traction in the corporate world, Wave could well have had a similar story, given the time and marketing.
  • by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @06:52AM (#33330718)

    Are you telling me an iPhone isn't radical? A desktop Web browser with a display 1/4 the pixels of the original Web browser and 1/8th the size, no mouse, no keyboard, no windows (the document floats inside the viewport), and holistic zooming is not radical?

    Actually, yes. It's good, useful, and a successful product, but it's not radical. Web browsers have been done before. Small form factors have been done before. Touchscreens have been done before. Apple takes things, integrates them well, polishes them up and makes them work better than almost anyone else.

    But it's still not radical. I looked at the iPhone and thought "I've never seen this done so well before". I didn't think "I've never seen this done before".

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:41AM (#33337556)

    Are you telling me an iPhone isn't radical?


    All those things you mentioned, have been done before. Firefox 1 had the same kind of zooming as the Iphone, but no one used it as it was never needed.

    I'm sorry you've been sucked into that delusion that the Iphone is somehow new or even unique.

    Now wave failed because Google 1. didn't push it enough. 2. didn't distribute it enough. There was not enough incentive for a significant community to form, nor for uptake in the private sector. I'm still waiting for a replacement for Microsoft Exchange so I can get away from the Windows Server System completely. Wave was our best chance for that. I don't see Apple providing an alternative to Microsoft's best piece of engineering.

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