ZDNet.com.au news editor Renai LeMay (Credit: CBS Interactive)
commentary When Google Wave was first unveiled back in
May this year, the hype surrounding the latest offering to emerge
from the fevered imaginations of the Sydney-based brothers
Rasmussen was unbelievable.
Google Wave, we were told, would burst through all the limitations
our creaky global communications platforms have been struggling
with for decades.
No more painstakingly attaching documents to emails in Outlook,
then making sure that every relevant stakeholder is or isn't
included in the recipient list every time someone hits "reply to
No more shuffling meeting times to find a sanguine date where
those recipients of your latest corporate planning opus can meet
online in order to append notes and debate your noteworthy
ideas. And certainly no more instant messages containing hyperlinks to that juicy YouTube video of Kanye West ruining Taylor Swift's MTV Awards night that you just have to open in your browser window anyway.
Why, asked Lars Rasmussen, in a seminal post on Google's
official blog, should humans in 2009 have to live with divides
between different types of communication — "email versus chat, or
conversations versus documents?"
"Could a single communications model span all or most of the
systems in use on the web today, in one smooth continuum? How
simple could we make it?" he asked.
A noble vision indeed.
The press coverage was lavish. "Google Wave drips with ambition.
A new communications platform for a new web," wrote TechCrunch's MG
Siegler. My colleague Rafe Needleman over at CNET News.com went even
further. "It's not just an app, it's an important evolution in the
philosophy of written communication," he enthused.
In short, email is pretty good, and Google is going to let everyone use it, but Google Wave has one of the best communications solutions of all time.
Then there's the
impeccable developer pedigree behind Google Wave. Lars and Jens
Rasmussen are none other than the pair who founded the technology
behind Google Maps. They're considered top-level thinkers in the
Google ranks, an impressive accomplishment when you consider how
many MIT graduates and PhD doctorate holders enjoy the Google largesse.
But, all like all good fairy tales, the great Google Wave
hype rollercoaster has to come to an end.
I'm sorry to be a killjoy, but I've been puttering around in
Google Wave for the best part of a week now, and I have no idea in
hell what I'm supposed to be using it for. I've watched all the
videos (yes, even the cool 3.5 per cent one), tried out Google Wave
with people in the Australian tech early adopter community both
within my company and outside, but got absolutely nowhere with this platform.
The problem, as far as I can see, is that Google Wave doesn't
have a single killer application that is going to make people dump
their existing communications platforms for it.
Many of the
problems that the Rasmussens are trying to solve — content
duplication, context-sensitive instant messaging, the integration
of documents and communication about those documents — have
already been picked off by some far more versatile
Twitter has now become the ubiquitous way to publicly share and
flock to snippets of information and communicate about them.
Instant messaging clients that support every protocol known to
man, such as Digsby, have long since solved the problem of
privately messaging between different domains such as Yahoo and MSN.
Content duplication has been solved inside organisations by
Microsoft SharePoint, wiki services, and plain old network drives.
In our private lives, we use a hosted service like Google Docs,
Flickr or even WordPress to share content, or just email it to each
I've seen it in action, and I understand it. What I don't know is what the hell we need it for.
Finally, the global email platform is not as broken as Google
perhaps believes it to be. Every single person who has ever used
email is familiar with its limitations and strengths. Not everyone
likes it. But that doesn't mean it's not going to be the primary
way we send each other documents for the next decade.
Technology giants like Microsoft have been trying to improve
email for decades, and have continually failed. The reason? It's
such a ubiquitous and pervasive standard that it's impossible to
force the whole planet to agree on what the next upgrade should be.
I certainly understand the concept that the Rasmussens are
trying to realise with Google Wave; let's face it, it's the holy
grail of modern communications.
But, the failure of Google Wave is that people don't like big
solutions to their problems. They like small ones that have a
diamond focus and work perfectly. It's the reason why applications
like Xobni, TweetDeck, Firefox, Skype and WordPress have become so
powerful and influential. They build on our previous technology in
a way that just makes sense, and just works.
All of the Google Wave collaborations I have started over the past week have gradually petered out as people realise they don't quite "get it". They return to their existing tools, which they like, and which work fine.
I'll leave you with some parting comments, again, from
TechCrunch's MG Siegler's article back in May.
"So, if you've read this far," he wrote, "you're probably
thinking that Wave either sounds great or you're confused as to
what it exactly is. It really is one of those products that you
have to see in action to understand."
I've seen it in action, and I understand it. What I don't know
is what the hell we need it for.