Will Google Wave replace email? 23:39 on Wednesday

Intestines, originally uploaded by Leonardo Aguiar.

First of all: I’m a fan of Google Wave. I see huge potential in it. But does Wave have a chance of replacing email?

My 50 cent guess would be no.

No, because historically, world-shifting technologies are technologies, not applications. Pubsubhubbub can change the world. Wave can’t. Email protocols changed the world, Eudora or Pine didn’t.

Google has been at the receiving end of the hype wave before: No matter how revolutionary the “Google phone”, the open sourced Anrdoid, was (or felt like) when it was first hinted at, it hasn’t changed the world.

It’s a case of revolutionary systems versus revolutionery ecosystems. A revolutionary app is exciting, but often daunting for those who start using it. A revolutionary ecosystem is exciting for those who see the revolution coming, and often feels natural for those who start using it.

Google Wave is presented in a way of: “look at all the cool things you can do with this: you can turn an IM conversation into a wiki, merge emails into it, invite more people to collaborate, create embedded event invites and mashup maps and give directions to everyone! whoa!” How exciting! But after the excitement of receiving the rare invite fades, I’m left thinking “now what”.

To get the Wave going (oh, the endless puns possible with this product…), Google needs more than a few million signups. They need more than a potentially world-shifting new paradigm. They need more than all the useful features one can think of. They need their own “throw a sheep” app.

Let me explain: Facebook didn’t blow up because it was a potential major force in the shift how people use the internet (and a bridge for the masses into the real-time internet, some would say). It didn’t blow up because it was useful, quite the contrary: Facebook blew up because you could throw your friends with sheep. And you could send your vampires to bite your friends. Facebook provided an irresistible call to action, which some found hilarious, and clicked through, some were dumbfounded, and clicked through, and some were annoyed, if not totally pissed off, and swore to never enter that evil hole that was Facebook. And after a week they clicked through to see what the fuck made all their sane friends start throwing virtual farm animals at each other. (Now the same friends have moved on to the more civilized activity of looking after the said virtual animals on their virtual farms. Oh well.)

Google Wave lacks this irresistible call to action. The hopeful in me wants to add: “for now”. As stated, I am a Google fanboy, and I have utmost faith in that they can and will make Wave a success (although they do have a few lukewarmly received products: think Knol, Notebook, even Checkout or, even Android). Also, Google operates on a scale that makes it impossible to estimate their clout in these things.

I’ll leave you with this Steve Jobs quote on the super secretive pre-launch Segway, on which he prophesied: cities will be built around it. It’s easy to be very excited about something that feels completely new. Yet it is very difficult for something completely new to live up to the hype and take over the world.

2 Responses to “Will Google Wave replace email?”


  1. mike bradshaw Says:

    Niko you seem to be making the same mistake/assumption that many others are making about Wave :) This article http://www.jasonkolb.com/weblog/2009/09/why-google-wave-is-the-coolest-thing-since-sliced-bread.html helps you to see that although the Wave client is interesting (in that it pushes the boundaries of what can be done in a browser), there is much more that can be done especially around the server and protocol (for instance writing a “fat-client”)

    This article http://danieltenner.com/posts/0012-google-wave.html is one of the best definitions i have seen to date of what Wave is useful for.

  2. Niko Says:

    Point taken. I agree the underlying technologies in Wave are huge, but I’m still skeptic about the client itself. Like I say in the beginning of the post, I see huge potential in it, just the kind of potential Daniel Tenner is writing aout.

    What I don’t see is how Wave could take off (yet). Despite what many a geek would say, the capability for such brilliant innovation to take off is only partly about having the technologies and features and possibilities right. You also need to have people understand the possibilities in a meaningful way. When you create something that is supposed to change behaviour, the thing actually needs to guide people towards the new behaviour, both explicitly (help texts, tutorials, etc), but more importantly implicitly (having the user experience just right, so that learning happens “automatically”). This is the area where Wave currently lacks — the irresistible call to action.