Google just announced that it is no longer actively developing Google Wave–the web-based communication app that was supposed to revolutionize the way we interact online. I was a fairly early user of Wave, but I never really got into it. It was a little strange, a little clunky, and, most significantly, quite unnecessary. In other words, it tried to fill a gap that was never really there to being with.
Our asynchronous means of online collaboration–email–works pretty well, despite inherent issues such as replying to all/one, endless email spam, and information overload. We’re pretty good at sending email, after nearly two decades of popular use. When I encounter someone who does not have an email address, I am admittedly suspicious: what, I think, you can’t use a computer?
As for synchronous communication, most web users are a least a little familar with tools such as instant messenging and chat. Texting is the IM and chat killer, of course, and we’re getting better at that all the time. We have established ways of sending short bits of information in rapid succession, though texting between multiple users is still challenging.
So, there was nothing Google Wave needed to do. No itch it needed to scratch. Worse still, its interface was decidedly unsexy and not very user friendly. The iPad, by contrast, also does nothing that we couldn’t do before, but the thing is so sleek we buy it anyway.
Google will no doubt learn lessons from the burnout of Wave. Ambitious failures are common at Google Labs. The lesson I am drawing is that no amount of hype can ever secure a niche for a new technology–unless that technology supplies users with something they needed or are deeply drawn to. As educators, we need to sort out what is pure hype hype from what is potentially interesting. I fell pretty hard for Second Life, but that too, seems to have seen its better days. My prediction, based on the Google Wave flame out, is that Second Life will join the dead pool in two years, essentially replaced by Facebook and other social networking services.