Google Wave: the ripple effect

This piece has been on my to do list ever since Google announced in early August that they would pull support from Google Wave.

Google wave was one of the most highly anticipated online products of 2009.

Google Wave was unveiled at Google I/O on May 28, 2009 with an 80 minute introduction.  One of the first words Google used to describe Google Wave was that it was an “unbelievable product.”  That day, many analysts thought that Google was onto something big.  Something that would change the way that people communicated.  The original launch video is shown below.


Google Wave was a mixture of twitter, email, and many other things — a hodgepodge.  There was one thing in particular, however, that defined the anticipation of this product.  What was that?  It was the ability to see the text that somebody is writing in real time — text would appear on screen as it was written, just like you are staring at the text you write in a word processor.

After daydreaming about the possibilities of real time, character by character, communication I immediately signed up for an invite.  I was extremely excited.

I waited patiently for six months for Google Wave to come out.  It’s the way technology works.  You see something one tech demo — and start imagining about the rosy possibilities that this new product will unlock.  It would be a whole new level of collaboration.


On November 26, 2009 — I found my Google Wave invite in my inbox.  It was an amazing moment.  All the waiting finally came to an end.  After I spent a few minutes configuring my account and adding some friends who already had the service I noticed that I had eight invitations to give out to other people.

Google Wave would not be a product if you had nobody to collaborate with.   It would be like having an email account with nobody to talk to or a Facebook account with no friends.  I decided to post a Facebook status to see if anybody else was interested in the product.  Responses came in pretty quick as shown below.

As soon as one of my friends signed up for the service I tested out the real-time document editing capabilities of Google Wave.  It was a blast — for about five minutes.  After you got over the fact that multiple users could edit a document at the same time with real-time character by character synchronization, you started to see the blemishes.  As with many things, the blemishes were enough to turn people away from using the product.  Namely, Google Wave was confusing and clunky.  Even the document editing was too basic and confined to get any real kind of work done.  Something that I spent six months day dreaming about only kept my attention for about thirty minutes when I started tinkering around with it.


On May 19, 2010, Google Wave was released to the general public.  By then it was already too late.  As you can see from the figure below, the web search interest for Google Wave peaked in December of 2009 and then quickly dropped off.  The ‘official’ release of Google Wave was not even met with a spike in interest.  The fact of the matter is that the general public either did not want to try Google Wave or they heard that the functionality was not worth the price of admission.  The price of admission being simply creating a free Google Wave account.

Google announced that they would pull the plug on the development of Google Wave on August 4, 2010.  Were there some die hard users of Google Wave?  I’m sure there are, but how many of them do you personally know?  Well, Google Wave managed to create one wave — and that was a lot of hype.

You know what else Google Wave did?  It paved the way for the ripple effect.

The ripple effect

In April 2010, Google launched an updated version of Google Docs that had the feature that everybody was so excited about in Google Wave.  Below is the release video.

This was the first time that Google Docs had real-time, character by character, synchronization between multiple users. You could have multiple people working on the same document and text just appears.  As the months went on, this service got more responsive.  Now, multiple people can work on the same document and you see text appearing — almost like you are watching a phantom writer.

How is Google Wave tied into this?  The code that is required to make this kind of collaboration possible is no doubt very complex.  It takes a lot of testing and fine tuning to get it right.  A lot of trial, error, error, and more error.

What gave Google the ability to test this type of technology out until it finally worked?  Google Wave.  Even though Google Wave did not last — the code to real-time collaborative ability was reimplemented into one of Google’s signature products.  That’s what I like to call the ripple.

I would also like to conjecture that a lot of the Google Wave code that was fine tuned and tested made its way back into another Google product called Google Web Search.  You know, Google Instant.  That, again, is a very complicated chunk of code behind that minimalistic white bar.  I think Google learned a lot about how to code something that was ‘real-time’ while developing Google Wave.

Remember, I said Google Wave was clunky and confusing.  What it lead to though was quite the opposite.  It lead to some services that are quite elegant and minimalistic.  Now more people are starting to get on the real-time communication bandwagon.  It’s going to be an exciting time in technology.  Good bye Google Wave — hello new ways to communicate.

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2 responses to “Google Wave: the ripple effect

  1. Good article. It’s interesting to see where things that are such convenient taken-for-granted tools like instant search may have come from. I wonder where this idea will be used next.

  2. Just think about how simple the interphase was for our Dynamics project was sophomore year of college. All we did was enter in a run command — and behind that was hundreds of lines of code, created through many sleepless nights in the linux lab.

    Google’s search algorithm is actually quite the complex thing. The open equivalent of it is Hadoop. Facebook actually has the 2nd largest implementation of it on the planet. I mean — there are such large amounts of data available. How do you sort it, extremely quickly, in a meaningful way?

    For once, the indexing abilities of data is better on the consumer application side when compared to enterprise. I can’t wait until businesses find faster, and more meaningful, ways to process the massive amounts of data they have.

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