After a little more than a year, Google …

So, after a little more than a year, Google has announced that they’re pulling the plug on Wave. I suppose I have mixed feeling about this.

I think I understood where Wave was coming from, and I certainly like the idea of trying to develop a next-generation messaging platform. On the other hand, though, I have to admit that Wave always seemed to me like a solution in search of a problem. I only used it a couple of times — to communicate with the two of you — and only experimentally. I might have used it more if it had offered something that I felt I needed.

And (like most Wave users, it seems) I was never persuaded by the argument that real-time, keystroke-by-keystroke collaboration was a feature. I suppose there are some contexts where that kind of immediacy makes sense, but when I’m writing the equivalent of an e-mail, an instant message, or a wiki update, I only want to send my finished text. I don’t see any benefit in letting other people look over my shoulder and get distracted by my typos, false starts, and things I decide not to say.

But I have to admit that the main reason I didn’t use Wave was that no one else was using it. A messaging service isn’t particularly effective if the people you need to communicate with aren’t on it. It’s rather like the challenge faced by any social-networking service that wants to compete with Facebook: people aren’t going to go there unless their friends are already there. Sometimes mass migrations happen, but only very compelling features can bring that about.

Because of this problem, I think any radical new technology that aspires to replace e-mail is doomed to failure if it exists only as its own closed system. Wave was an interesting experiment, but if Google wants to push e-mail and messaging forward, they need to do it incrementally within the context of Gmail and Gtalk. I’m not smart enough to figure out how that would work, but they need to recognize that even early adopters like us need to continue interacting with the rest of humanity.

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