Why Google Wave failed: Too complicated, no fun

Work software shouldn't resemble a video game -- especially when there's no way to win

Google's Wave has passed on before we really figured out what it was in the first place. Oh, we knew it was a "collaboration and communication tool consolidat[ing] core online features from e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, multimedia management, and document sharing," but it's hard to get excited over anything that requires such a wooly description.

Wave was supposed to aggregate all those communication methods into a single browser-based application, which business users could use to collaborate more effectively. But no one seemed particularly enthusiastic about the Wave user experience. The amount of spam and even legitimate conversation was overwhelming, and people were left staring at a mishmash of feeds and communications widgets, wondering what exactly to do with them all.

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Facebook provided one frame of reference for people grappling with Wave. The two services bore more than a passing resemblance to each other, with centralized messaging, chat, and document sharing in a browser pane. In many ways, Wave looked like an attempt to harness Facebook's communication style for business users.

In fact, when Wave was first announced, there were suggestions that Facebook should be updated to reflect Wave's bright ideas or even that Wave might replace Facebook altogether. In retrospect, this speculation was just silly -- the two were designed for entirely disparate environments -- but it reflected their structural similarities, despite the differences in the content of the communication that would occur within that structure.

Google somehow missed the fact that Facebook's communication style is the last thing that draws people to that site, as its stunningly bad user satisfaction numbers indicate. But as a payoff for these grievances, Facebook allows users to do what they already want to do: chat with their friends, share funny links, and play video games.

By contrast, once you figure out how to navigate all the quirks in Google Wave, you get to -- well, do your work. Wading through the hassles of Wave was like standing in an amusement park-length line, only to find your cubicle waiting for you at the end.

This article, "Why Google Wave failed: Too complicated, no fun," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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