ZDNet's Sam Diaz, among others, mourned the death of Google Wave on Wednesday when the company announced that it would no longer be developed due to lack of interest. While this story was widely reported as one of Google's few failures. However, the mourners, naysayers, and critics are largely missing the point of a Labs group within an organization. Wave will most definitely rise again, with all signs pointing to some enterprise-class social features.
Google Labs is the home of projects Googlers want to test with a larger audience. Wave is one of the highest profile Labs projects and was released (and then revamped and more widely released) to considerable fanfare. Most of us in the technology press keep a pretty close eye on major projects that come out of Labs, After all, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, GOOG-411, Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Maps, and Google Groups all were once Labs projects.
Labs groups are popping up in many larger companies, where bureaucratic processes and rigorous structure tend to stifle innovation. Labs-like organizations are meant to be incubators for ideas where the best can mature and percolate to the top to be turned into real products for the larger company and the worst offer learning experiences and help develop new technologies. When projects succeed, you get great products like Microsoft's Ribbon Hero or Google Docs. When they don't succeed, you get Google Wave.
Yet as Google pointed out in their blog,
Wave has taught us a lot, and we are proud of the team for the ways in which they have pushed the boundaries of computer science...The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source.
Wait a minute...Drag and drop? Google just announced that attachments could now be dragged right from Gmail in Google Chrome to a Google Apps user's desktop. And drag and drop within Gmail has been supported for a while. Character-by-character live collaboration and multi-user editing? That was introduced in Google Docs not so long ago and is shown in the video below.
In contrast to a typical corporate environment, where failures can cost a company millions (or worse yet, a brand), a Labs setting values successes and failures equally. Failures, after all, are lessons learned and technologies built. Clearly, in this case, Wave has contributed directly to two of Google's core enterprise products.
Perhaps a more important question is why would Google continue to support Wave when we all know that they are deeply involved in building social technologies? Many of the capabilities in Wave are ripe for social media applications, particularly those that could add considerable value for Google's enterprise customers.
I, for one, am not mourning the death of Wave. I'm far more interested in the ways it will be reincarnated across Google's existing products and in their not-so-secret pipeline. If Wave is dead, then long live Google Wave.