Wave’s Death Could be Preparation for a Rebirth

Google announced that it would not continue developing Google Wave. At first read I thought this was an awful decision–Google Wave is a truly incredible product, which although it takes some getting used to, has huge potential. I thought Wave was one of the most important developments on the Internet since the Web. I was arguing in a previous post that Wave would be massively disruptive, disintermediating social activity on the Web while doing a lot of other very interesting things. After a bit more reflection, I think there may be something more interesting in Google’s announcement, and I don’t think it’s as simple as killing Wave. Look carefully at what Google said in its announcement

“We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects.”

Remember that Google Wave is essentially Google’s interface for its Wave concept, which centers around the wave protocol, largely an extension of XMPP. Much was developed because of the Google Wave project being open source, wave federation servers, the protocol, extensions, etc. In addition, it was not only a consumer project, various enterprise applications built upon it (SAP Streamwork and Novell Pulse). In other words there is a rather large amount of support outside of just Google for the various aspects of Wave. Google might discontinue development on its Wave product but as Google says, it will extend the technology for other projects.

What’s that mean? The first thing people are theorizing seems to be based on the growing rumours of Google’s upcoming social application, Google Me. TechCrunch points in that direction. People are theorizing that in public waves as well (which now I won’t bother to link to here). And that makes sense, if Google is preparing a Facebook killer, then why wouldn’t it take advantage of all it has in its storehouse of disruptive supplies?

In my previous post about Google Wave’s disruptive nature, I said that Wave wrests control from social networks by giving anyone the opportunity to form them, ad hoc,without a central overseer; like e-mail. This is a very powerful idea. Facebook is known for being something of an alternative to e-mail. The problem with Facebook is that it’s owned by a single central source and so Facebook cannot scale out the way e-mail has. If Google can develop a better Facebook than Facebook, but also let it scale freely through third parties (like on through wave federation servers), then it’s got something that’ll be much more likely to peel off Facebook’s traffic. Google has always been better at harnessing the power of things that move freely, beyond its own sphere of control. Just look at its Android success. Google uses Free and open source software as a strategy, successfully.

Which brings me back to what Google is really ending here. I’m guessing that Google is putting an end to its current user interface. That’s what most people think of as the Google Wave product. While it was quite an interesting interface, it’s true that it confused a lot of people. I loved what it allowed me to do and essentially wanted it to replace my use of e-mail completely (not to mention the many other things I used it for) however, there were some things that frustrated me with it. So Google will kill off its interface but extend the underlying technology to another product. This might be a very smart move.

Google built an incredibly cool group of technologies for wave but the interface was new, foreign, and disconnected with what people are doing on a mass scale. Facebook has a proven system that masses flock to for communicating online. Facebook’s system of course has many problems (I’ll save those for another post). If Google launches Google Me to take what Facebook does well; while improving that with its own insights (things like social sphere separation or clearer interface components); amalgamating the social bits and pieces it launched everywhere else (Buzz, Gmail, Orkut, Reader, etc.); and making that all work on top of the amazing FOSS wave technology it developed, it will have something that is both sticky to users and can grow far beyond what Facebook is capable of. It might finally even be the e-mail replacement I’d hoped for in 2006 (and which Wave essentially was), plus a whole lot more.

Such a move would also enable Google to extend deeper into the reaches of collaborative enterprise applications, which is important for Google’s other app strategies and brings the personal social world with the business world all within Google’s interconnected web of data. Smart move, Google. Still, I don’t understand why it didn’t wait to kill its Wave interface until it launched Google Me.

–Update: Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said in reference to the tech developed behind Wave:

“. . .we are taking those technologies and applying them to new technologies that are not announced. We’ll get the benefit of Google Wave but it won’t be as a separate product. . .”

And that just bolsters my point.

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