In case you missed it, Google today announced that they were no longer going to develop Google Wave as a standalone product. From The Daily Beast:
Google announced Wednesday it would no longer develop Google Wave as a standalone product, killing the program that the company once hoped would overtake email. Google’s senior vice president of operations admitted in a blog post that Wave “has not seen the user adoption we would have liked,” but insisted the company was still proud of its groundbreaking abilities. Google launched Wave last year at the company’s Google/IO conference, and they had heavily promoted the platform’s ability to collaborate, share images and media in real time, and improve spell-checking by context. The code will still live on, so other developers who already had access to it could possibly integrate it into new, innovative products.
I bring this up because Google Wave was intended to be used as a replacement for email. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it never really took off. Essentially, you could start up threads and the interface was kind of like a discussion board; actually, come to think of it, it was a bit more like Facebook. Only people with invitations could start up new threads (or waves), only by logging into the interface could you view the waves, and only people on your contact list could strike up conversations with you. Unlike email, only people you already knew could contact you. The whole strength of email is that people you don’t know can talk to you (that’s also its weakness).
Google Wave got around the spam problem by requiring people be in your Gmail contacts list. And what is typical of Google before opening it up to the public (see Gmail), only invited people could get on board. But the whole point of being able to communicate with people is to make it easy. Facebook, of course, requires people be in your contact list before they can strike up a conversation with you, but Facebook has a passive interface where once you’re friends with someone, you can see all their status updates and actions, and see them in pictures. With Google Wave, you had to opt in and actively participate to see the action. In addition, Facebook makes the contact experience relatively easy. In Google Wave, you need a Gmail account, have to opt your contacts into a new wave, have to sign into Google Wave and that’s all there is (as opposed to Facebook’s entertainment experience), and so forth. It’s just not as easy as email and not as intuitive as Facebook. The potential for abuse is smaller, but it’s just that certain intangible factor that is difficult to quantify. Of course, all of the “apps” in Facebook that are available to its users are also really helpful.
Facebook is ripe for abuse. So is email. Google Wave, not so much. Yet ironically enough, it is the first two that have taken off with users. Perhaps insecurity really is a useful feature after all that users grow dependent upon. On the other hand, maybe it says something about the rest of us that we prefer convenience to security. Hmm…