Google Wave: There Will Be Backlash

2000053637785328007_rsHave you gotten your Google Wave invite yet? Just kidding — they’re not out yet. The team (which is based in Australia) decided to push them out later today so they could be up to deal with issues surrounding the massive influx of new users. And judging from the response on the web, “massive” is also the perfect word to describe the anticipation for the service.

Ever since it was unveiled at Google I/O this past May, it seems that everyone wants to know everything about Wave. And yesterday, when it was revealed that a big roll-out to more than just developers was around the corner, interest spiked again. Since then, the term has not left Twitter’s Trending Topics area. But there is always a downside to so much hype, and I’m pretty certain we’re going to see it in the coming days and weeks with Google Wave too: Backlash.

Actually, some amount of backlash started immediately after it was first revealed in May. While we were wowed after a hands-on demonstration we got, writing that Wave “drips with ambition,” there were plenty in the press and general public who quickly jumped on the other side of the coin. Upon seeing the public demonstation, reactions ranged from “Wow” to “I don’t get it.” But the real test will come later today when many of those people actually get to use it for the first time.

We have been using Wave since Google I/O, and while it has been very buggy, the team has worked hard to iron out a lot of the kinks since then. Still, there will be plenty who begin using it today who will be disappointed. It’s a tricky situation for the Wave team. From the get go, they’ve said that the ultimate vision is for Wave to be a new communication platform for the web — meaning they hope hundreds, if not thousands, of other services are built with Wave as the backbone. But that’s a long ways out. Today, all we have to play with is Google Wave, the service, which is still very early in its lifespan.

It’s really Google Wave’s ambition that is a dual-edged sword. Because the team is trying to do so much with the product, there will be plenty of people who find it confusing and cluttered. And to some extent, they’re right. But anyone who labels it a failure at this point is either a curmudgeon or an extremely shortsighted person claiming to have foresight. It’s a nice thought that every product should be a taut bundle of execution with an easy path to monetization. But the web, and really the world, would be a much more boring place if that were the case.

CNSPhoto-Monk-ThereWillBeBloodPart of Google’s strategy with Wave, and part of the reason they’re putting it out there early, is to see what developers and the users make of it. In that regard, it’s not all that different from Twitter, which started as a simple status-update side project, and transformed into something much different thanks to its users and the third-party developer community around it.

Wave is much more complicated than Twitter, and that could well be a downside (remember, keep it simple, stupid). But there’s a difference between clutter and ambition, especially when you have the resources of Google behind you. Shooting for the Moon is a good thing, and Wave has a unique opportunity to do that.

I’m not saying Wave will be a success. Many of the most ambitious projects often crash and burn — it’s the nature of high risk/high reward. But we’re still way too early in its lifespan to make that call for Wave. I can see the backlash already, and I think we should give it a chance. The end result could well be something that greatly benefits us all, but getting to that point, if it ever does, will take time.

[images: Paramount Vantage]