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Why Google Wave Was Not A Success

Like most software companies in the enterprise space we've had a good look in the past at Google Wave - the software that promised to change the way we think about email and collaboration.

It had a fairly open API so one alternative was to look at it as an adjunct tool for document collaboration i.e. open a document from CogniDox as a "wave" and manage updates and versions in cooperation with the Wave tool. It never quite made it to our 'top three' things to do. Something else (such as an add-in for Microsoft Word) always seemed to get higher.

Last week, Google announced that they were pulling the plug on Wave development but they were also planning to make what they had done available as an open source project called "Wave in a Box". First up, this is a very correct decision and one that deserves praise. Many of us are looking forward to casting an eye over the protocols code and the way the web client / Wave server inter-operate.

But there is also the question of why it has come to this for Google Wave?

Matt Asay, one of the most astute observers of the open source scene, thinks it may be due to the fact that Wave never had a community of open source developers in the first place. Compared to the way that developers join Mozilla projects (or even Android),  it was too Google-centric; too closed. If he is right, then the FOSS project should be a big success and change the day.

But the more basic problems that Google Wave failed to solve have nothing to do with the make-up of the developer community. The first is the problem that Wave was "hard to get" as a concept. How exactly should it be used? In what way is it like email and in what way is it not?

The second is the ubiquitous nature of email. It has been perfectly described by PARC researchers: Email is much more than an ordinary application: it has become a habitat, the place where many people spend much, if not most, of their workdays (Ducheneaut & Bellotti, 2001). Email is the command and control centre where work is received and tasks are delegated. Andrew McAfee has said in the past that any application that will replace it will have to be 9 times better.

So, we wait and see what becomes of Wave in a Box. Will it become a successful open source application that does change the game, or will it become a box of useful ideas for developers to pick over?

Tags: Document Control, Enterprise Software, Business Process Models