Why Google Wave sucks, and why it doesn't matter

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The Second Coming of the Polaroid

waveyNow that Google Wave is trickling out into the water supply, I’ve been sucked into “playing” with it alongside FriendFeed, Yammer, Skype, and email. Erick Schonfeld insists on discussing a project we’re readying, and unfortunately I’m able to sign in from my iPhone. The FriendFeed direct message interface is not exposed on the iPhone version, and Skype makes me feel stupid for entering a ping and then watching my battery indicator drop while waiting for some signs of life. In this environment Wave suddenly is acceptably lousy.

I’m down at Oracle’s OpenWorld event, which lands like Normandy on Howard Street with a massive tent that this year has proved helpful in the rainstorm hitting full force. The occasion was Salesforce boss Marc Benioff’s quasi-keynote in a small theater just off the main Moscone hub. I caught up with Marc after the presentation at the Salesforce booth, a massive presence punctuated by a giveaway of two SmartCars or equivalent. As Marc suggested, they were one of three exciting things at this year’s conference.

The first was the strange Scott McNealy/Larry Ellsion co-keynote on Sunday night, a delayed-on-account-of the-EU swan song by McNealy that picked up midsentence from his first take at JavaOne in June. Jonathan Schwartz was nowhere to be seen, though his number 2 John Fowler was given a visible role in the proceedings. Scott seemed determined to thread the needle of continuity with the old Sun vibe, but even Ellison’s rosy words of support for MySQL and IBM badmouthing in favor of Sun hardware did little to alter the truth that Sun survives only in its products but not the ideas that might have been coming.

Ellison made it clear in recent days that he’s still stuck on his who-cares-about-cloud-computing schtick, but Benioff for one thinks he’s missing the obvious. While Oracle allowed Salesforce to team up with Michael Dell in this little alternate conference within a conference, Benioff seemed happy to promote being right about the cloud in the midst of the lion’s den. From my vantage point at the back of the theater, there was a small hemorrhage of attendees when Facebook/Twitter integration with its Call Center and CRM services were demoed. But if 10% left, that meant 90% got a message 180 degrees from the show-wide Oracle Fusion meme, Marc’s third exciting theme.

So it will go with Google Wave, as it begins to penetrate the legacy environements of Gmail, Gchat, and Apps. Right now it’s a red-haired step child of both the cloud and the stream, pretty much useless in both courts. The more that user feedback intrudes, the more Wave will devolve to an email clone. But if Google resists that impulse, something big is likely to happen. This is not about user experience; it’s a war for control of the Google realtime platform, and the central mechansim to slow down Facebook and Twitter. As such, they need to fail, and fail fast — and then start integrating with or absorbing Gmail and Apps.

They can look no further than Yammer for tips; the Twitter enterprise clone has rapidly expanded its rich clients on the desktop and the iPhone to provide push notification at a precisely the time we need it. In particular the iPhone app is suddenly more useful than email, with new messages indicated on the icon as they are received (42 at the moment) and direct messages popping up in a Push notification. Email has too much flow and not enough filtering to avoid constant interruptions by needy PR and the like, and forget about Twitter or even FriendFeed in their current firehose status.

Wave could grab this away from Yammer with little trouble, but the big problem is one of focus. The prize is stream control, the metering of stream dynamics and some sort of pass-off to a stream feed that can be consumed after the high order Yammer-type business flow is absorbed. For now, Wave can co-exist with FriendFeed/Facebook, and ignore Twitter and email. That leaves Skype and Google Docs traffic, which suggests that Gmail and Gchat integrate Waves as a new datatype to be launched into once pressing messages are triaged.

A strategy begins to emerge: high priority messages, Wave document discussion, stream maintenance, and email/presence monitoring. Using the Oracle/Cloud example, start pilot cloud projects, task IT with building hybrid on-premise “private/public” clouds, then negotiate with hosting and virtualization layers as M&A activity drives the move to cloud consolidation.

Wave sucks in its implementation, in its stonewalling of our need for priority stream filtering, in its confusion about its entry point into Google, or vice versa. But that will get sorted out by brute force, more likely by Facebook and FriendFeed integration, and whatever Twitter can buy in house to avoid cannibalization by Track invaders from their increasingly quarantined thrid party vendors. And Microsoft and Apple loom to mop up if Google slips too much or dithers too long, which probably means they won’t Wave may suck, but it won’t matter for long.

  • http://brisk.ly Matt Terenzio

    It doesn’t matta.

  • Dimitrius Kain

    Was this written in English?

    Also, I know of at least one read-headed “step child[sic]” who is a brilliant and much-loved young man.

  • scott

    A wave is not a stream.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com Mark Essel

    Tough article to digest Steve.
    I think I disagree but I’m not sure what you are saying.

    • http://www.websidechats.com Jack


      • Bert

        Tough to digest… I started to throw it back up at about paragraph two. What crazy myopic stance are you taking in this? Time to see the forrest! Wow…

  • MikeTheWilliams

    Wait, you like? Or you don’t like? Ah, you like… no? Don’t like? Confused.

  • http://phillipzannini.posterous.com Phillip Zannini (PhillyMac)

    The most obvious thing about this post is that Steve, like Larry Ellison not getting cloud computing, doesn’t get Wave. It’s not so much that his analysis (as it were) is wrong, it’s that he’s seeing it as many things it’s not. As a small business owner, I see the incredible potential for wave in real time collaboration and content association and tracking in relationship to long term conversations. In that context, it is revolutionary and I can’t WAIT for it to roll out to wider audiences. Hope Steve sees the light soon!

    • Phillip Zannini Jr.

      Dad, you really need to stop tooting your google fanboy horn. And come home, we miss you.

      • Phillip Zannini III

        Pop, grandpop, I am tired of you guys letting big time computing drive this family apart. It’s bad enough you divorced ma because she bought a mac. Anyways, Google wave in it’s current state is mostly useless and that is all anyone who has used it, as myself, can say right now. I speculate Google find a use somewhere, but I really think most people don’t understand that the candy does’t taste as good as the wrapper leads you to believe. This is the reason that most people have not used it. It simply is not ready yet for public use, it is not a finished product.

  • http://www.futuregovconsultancy.com/index.php/2009/10/14/links-for-2009-10-14/ FutureGov » Useful links » links for 2009-10-14

    […] Why Google Wave sucks, and why it doesn’t matter (tags: google googlewave collaboration) […]

  • steve

    i agree with Phillip. The author doesn’t understand the new evolution of ‘community’ technology platforms. There is an ecology to this new media/medium that requires the ability to understand ambiguity. Like any disruptive technology the view is forward, not in the rear view mirror.

  • http://www.philfeed.com/?p=257 PhilFeed › Fresh From My Twitter today

    […] Google Wave Sucks & Why It Doesn’t Matter – http://bit.ly/4lDazY The World’s First Patient-Aware Google Wave via @matt_perez – http://bit.ly/3h7I5I RE: […]

  • Wholly Moley

    I agree with Steve, Wave is a great demo app. For what I’m still not sure. And without a very clear (even if dismissed) “Oh, I get it,” is its death knell.

    Whither Schwartz, btw?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian_Foster/579549687 Brian Foster

    Does it suck more or less than RSS?

  • http://sco.tt Scott Yates
  • http://joeldowns.com/2009/10/15/google-waves-fatal-flaws/ Google Wave’s Fatal Flaws - The Downside

    […] useful for collaboration and communication in situations where everyone in the company is using it (competing with Yammer), but it won’t gain any significant market penetration compared to email or […]

  • http://www.dvafoto.com/2009/10/what-to-do-with-google-wave/ What to do with Google Wave? | dvafoto

    […] from journalism to wedding planning to the creation of new vaccines. Maybe. Maybe not. Early reports are mixed on the technology. I’m still not sure what makes it better than email or facebook. […]

  • http://www.twitter.com/kriscobbaert k

    I haven’t used Wave, I’ve seen screenshots so take this for what’s worth.

    In its current shape I won’t give Wave a try because
    a) I lack the time, and
    b) it won’t save me time, au contraire

    The alternative is email.
    I hate it, I really do because I already get too much email and I can’t get anything done when I get all those emails.
    It does have some obvious advantages; I can send it to everyone who matters and I can get it from just about anyone who matters.

    It’s not that difficult to understand.
    This thing called Wave needs to improve.

  • Tori

    Yes Google sucks, and Google Wave sucks too.

  • http://webtrendsng.com/blog/internet-buzz-from-nigeria-africa-and-around-the-world-for-the-week/ Web Trends Nigeria » Internet buzz from Nigeria, Africa and around the World for the week

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  • Van Pwned

    Without a doubt, Wave is far too complex for it to ever catch on. Only a handful of people would ever use it for all its designed to do, and even if you want to use just its basic features it takes a solid hour at least to understand it. That might not seem like a whole heck of a lot of time for the computer geeks out there, but 98% of people out there won’t waste their time on Youtube tutorials trying to figure out how to send a fricking email. Not to mention million other reasons why they clearly didn’t think this out very well. I’m tired of folks beating off to “anything Google does.” That said, Gmail rocks.

  • Gary Sheynkman

    Agreed with above that this was shit writing.

    However, I’m also in the camp that google wave won’t get much adoption outside the nerd-o-sphere


  • http://twitter.com/jamesdotlane James

    Not really sure if I understand a lot of what was said here, seems a little too incoherent to be useful.

    I do know that I like the direction the Wave team have said Wave will go, so if they (or developers) can deliver, I’ll be a very happy bunny

  • http://www.geekgirlsguide.com Nancy Lyons

    Your position is a little unclear. But if you’re saying Google Wave sucks – you’re wrong. It’s pretty early and nerds are certainly buzzing about it. It’s hard to decide what’s real and what’s hype. There are certainly bugs. And the slow roll out makes it hard to connect with others and determine just how relevant it is. But this kind of living dialogue — this conversation in real time — the collaborative creation of content — it is inevitable and it is the future. So it might suck today. But it’ll change everything tomorrow.

  • Steve Gillmor

    I’m not wrong; I am as enthralled at the possibilities as anybody, but many of the implications of the realtime environment are already better constructed elsewhere. That said, Wave will be a success in that it will bring Google into the game, which will have an appropriate effect on other players. Which is what you said, and what I said in the post.

  • Aron

    Well. I do have a wave account. It does everything as advertised, but it is in pre-alpha, nevertheless it is usable. It is better than e-mail even if you are using it as an e-mail, as it is obviously threaded, there are no 56k e-mails containing reply quotes a 100x times, there are the photos commented, named, videos included, named, at the right place, and the basic platform is only something like a browser: the interesting part comes with the robots and gadgets. I comment on blogs, but if wave is included, I don’t need to look back or clog my e-mail account with thousands of notifiers. It can (and will) replace RSS too, also, news can be shared more easily, commented on for some friends only who can react and keep all this in a single wave (like a single e-mail in your box). I am also a SME owner, manager. We can’t get around our e-mails on single projects: sometimes a project includes over a hundred e-mail exchanges. I receive about 80 e-mails per day. I try to sort them, but at several thousand per folder, you have no chance. Especially when you use 6 e-mail accounts, and your colleagues too, which one she used? which one she sent it to… Here the whole conversation will be in one wave, or if not in a daughter wave directly linked from the main one forking at the right place… Those with just a little bit of imagination see that the concept rocks. Obviously, implementations may limit the success, BUT this is an open API. Maybe there will be a next Thunderbird 4.0 using waves, hundred times faster than the browser based one, with preload cache, maybe the’ll optimize youtube embedding, etc.etc. There was once a corporation called Microsoft, who the unimaginative system called Windows. If the OSX would be an open operating system and could be pirated (along with the software written for it) by half the planet, Windows would have died at 3.1.

  • adam

    Oh my, i’ve never seen someone write so much and not say a word! what a bunch of jiberish!!!

  • maxx8864

    “The prize is stream control, the metering of stream dynamics and some sort of pass-off to a stream feed that can be consumed after the high order Yammer-type business flow is absorbed.”

    Quite possibly the worst sentence ever written.

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