Wave isn’t as dead as you might think

A month or so ago (while I was off on vacation), Google Wave quite publicly failed.  There was much hubbub about that, including my own analysis of what they did wrong.  What has gotten a lot less press is that this is probably the best thing that could have happened to the project.

A couple of weeks ago, Google announced on the Wave Blog that they would be producing “Wave in a Box”.  Basically, they already had made moves towards an open-source version of the server, the FedOne project; however, FedOne was competing with Google’s own product, so it was always a bit second-class.  Now, they’ll be beefing that project up, adding some of the UI power, as well as key features like gadgets and robots, so that the open-source version is at least roughly comparable with what Google themselves had produced, if not as full-featured.

IMO, this is great news — arguably better than if Google had continued the project themselves.  Wave had a lot of problems, but so long as the main implementation was closed-source and controlled tightly by Google it was subject to everything from staffing limitations to Google’s own biases about how things should work.  Now, the open-source version has the potential to let the proverbial thousand flowers bloom — it allows the open-source community to experiment, and figure out what really works in the wild.

Things I’m personally hoping will eventually evolve out of this:

  • External Identity Integration.  This was the biggest single failing of Google Wave, and the biggest roadblock to adoption.  Put frankly, it sucks to have to come up with a separate “Google identity” to use the system.  The open-source version should move aggressively towards a pluggable identity system, with different modules for different needs.  In the wild, it should allow you to authenticate using OpenID or Facebook Connect.  In a corporate environment, it should allow you to integrate using Active Directory.  (The latter alone has the potential to turn this into a far more useful business tool.)
  • Lighter-weight UI.  Google Wave was a very clever idea, but it got way out of hand in its ambitions.  One of the key impediments to adoption was the incredibly complex, sophisticated, slow, bulky client.  Frankly, everything I’ve seen leads me to believe that much of the weight comes from what have proven to be misfeatures: in particular, the customized scrollbar (which is kind of neat, but not obviously better than the scrollbars that the rest of the world uses) and the as-you-type synchronization (which is mildly useful, but which annoys more users than it helps).  So a UI that loses a few of those flashy features, but which loads and runs faster, would be welcomed by most people.
  • IE Support.  Closely related to the above, really — a lighter client would be less demanding on the browser.  I confess, this matters more to me than to most folks, precisely because I want to use Wave in my business, and the simple reality is that most people here use IE.  I don’t expect IE6 support — but having the thing work with IE8 would be a huge plus, and IE9 is almost a no-brainer, now that Internet Explorer is looking to stop sucking so much.
  • Mobile Support.  With everything centered on Google, this was hard.  But if I can create my own Wave site?  Seriously, the first thing I want is a decent mobile client — light-weight, not as full-featured, but enough to let me participate in the conversation from a small screen.  And in principle, there isn’t much preventing me from doing so.
  • A Real Ecosystem.  Google claimed from the beginning that they were trying to create a whole new platform for Internet communications, but shot themselves in the foot by putting themselves too much at the center of it.  With the playing field leveled, that changes dramatically.  There is now real impetus for consistent standards, and a potentially much bigger and more complex market.

Put it all together, and I’m actually excited again.  There are lots of ways it could screw up, but there’s also a real chance that this could start changing expectations about communication.

What am I missing here?  What should folks be doing with an open-sourced version of Wave?  Do you think it has a chance or not?

One Response to “Wave isn’t as dead as you might think”

  1. Tweets that mention Wave isn’t as dead as you might think « The Art of Conversation -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wave I/O News, I Barber. I Barber said: Wave isn't as dead as you might think « The Art of Conversation: A month or so ago (while I was off on vacation), … http://bit.ly/bE9Xu2 […]

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