When Google announced the shutdown of its Google Wave product in August, no one saw it coming. A highly innovative online-collaboration application, Wave allowed users to share richly formatted text, images, videos, maps—all in real time. Participants could be added and conversations replayed to keep everyone in the loop not just on projects and plans, but on updates, changes, and edits as well.
Subah Rama, senior analyst of enterprise communications at ABI Research, says she was “disappointed” by the news. Rama had predicted Wave might have the same impact on collaboration that the free Gmail offering had on the email market after Google launched that service in 2004 and made it generally available in 2007.
“When I saw [Wave] launch last year,” Rama says, “I thought it would definitely redefine the way people collaborate.” Google, she adds, gave no advance indication that Wave was about to be pulled. In Google’s official blogpost announcing the move, the only explanation given was that “Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked.”
Still, the product managed to inspire some pie-in-the-sky possibilities—and those may outlive Wave itself. Rama and other analysts spoke of the influence Google Wave would have had on collaborative software. Many had hoped that Google would eventually develop a productized Wave for enterprise integration.
“The effects of Google Wave would have impacted the industry in a very positive way because I know there are a lot of small companies that are working on a cloud-based collaborative platform,” Rama says. “If a big company like Google succeeds, it could [have expanded] the opportunity out there.”
Rama says she’s a strong believer in the cloud, but that the model needs to accommodate a wide range of applications. “Customers need greater choices,” she notes. “Google has been a very strong proponent of this model…. [There had been] so much hype, hope—and a very broad audience—that [Wave] getting pulled…kind of raises some questions on the cloud-development model.”
Peter Yared, founder and chief executive officer of Transpond, a company that provides infrastructure for social and mobile applications, has a different view of what Wave’s crash might signify: the end of collaborative software itself. “The collaboration solution is becoming very out of date,” Yared says. “[Collaboration software] never gets used the way it’s intended to be used because every project is being managed by email.”
Yared first aired his theory in a personal blogpost titled “It’s Collaboration Software that’s Dead, not Email.” “There is no quicker way to make a group of people in a conference room grimace than to announce you are going to use Basecamp, Central Desktop, or their kin to manage a project,” he wrote. “These services constantly spam your inbox every time someone adds a comma to a document, [and] use numerous different logins as each project is owned by different vendors or partners. Even worse, these tools are slow, arduous, and have user interfaces that look completely primitive.”
Yared counters the claim made by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, that email is becoming obsolete. Social networking sites may be the preferred mode of communication among the younger generation, but Yared says he expects that to change.
“I have a teenager,” Yared says. “If I send him an email, I don’t get a response for two days. The young generation does not use email—and also doesn’t work. The minute they enter the workforce, they’ll get on email. “
Yared notes that, at present, many collaborative applications are being “quickly outpaced” by email when it comes to real-time participation, as email always seems to be used regardless. “These project management services get out-of-date very quickly,” he says, “because people inevitably start emailing each other rather than updating the project online, especially when executives with BlackBerrys are in the project loop and near the end of a project when there is typically a frenzy of activity.”
Yared says he found Google Wave to be “a step in the right direction,” but that ultimately email itself will become more collaborative, eliminating the need for a separate application—or industry.
“The proper approach is if you take Gmail and add more collaborative [elements, which] I’m sure [Google is] going to,” Yared muses. “Email is going to grow up to be collaboration software…. It’s going to replace a lot of project software.”
Rama proposes a future for collaborative software that’s slightly more hopeful, noting that many companies are still trying to figure out how to use the technology effectively. “It’s still a very emerging market,” she concludes. “There’s a lot of homework to be done.”