The Problem with Google Wave: User Experience

Google Wave is no more. For those who remember the sound of the jaws of the tech mainstream dropping when Google showed the demo at Google I/O, that may come as a shock. For those who tried to use it, it’s probably less of a shock. I kind of liked ReadWriteWeb’s take:

Why did Wave fail? Maybe because if you don’t call it an “email-killer” (and you shouldn’t) then you’d have to call it a “product, platform and protocol for distributed, real time, app-augmented collaboration.” That’s daunting and proved accessible to too few people.

To say that people don’t get collaboration or that Wave was ahead of its time is a cop out. Wave IS an awesome product. Real-time collaboration IS changing how the world works together. On the Flash side that is one of the reason I’m so excited about Collaboration Services; real-time collaboration is fantastic.

But this was a case of Google’s user experience coming to bite them. Some people love the minimalistic experience of Gmail. And it worked a few years ago when it was first introduced, but the iPhone has shown how critical a great user experience is to user adoption. And frankly, Google’s user experience hasn’t changed much since the Gmail days and the applications are starting to feel dated. That’s not a big issue when you’re doing something as straight forward as email, but when you’re trying to completely change how people communicate, you need to provide a user experience that abstracts the technology and just makes it easy. Have we seen that done before?

iPhone

Exactly. Wave was a great technology showcase but it was not a great product. Google had the chance to fundamentally change communication on the web but they didn’t have the design chops to put it in a package that was useful to people and instantly easy for them to dive into. You can’t do an 80 minute demo for something that’s this big of a shift in thinking.

Hopefully Google takes this to heart and realizes that technology isn’t good enough. When you’re being revolutionary you have to design a user experience that makes the technology feel second nature.

Up-leveling the Flex User Interface Discussion

higher_levelLast week in New York I got a chance to present and watch at DelveNYC. It was a great conference and I wish I could have caught more of it; very valuable for designers of all stripes and a great set of speakers. One of the things that I thought was so valuable about it was that it focused on a lot of design theory. My favorite talk of all came from Theresa Neil who spoke on Rich Patterns in UI Design. It was a phenomenal talk and it was clear that Theresa is well versed in all of the RIA technologies as she talked about controls for each technology, accessibility, and pointed out great examples of her patterns being put to use in Flex applications and other RIAs.

What struck me was that this woman with an amazing grasp on theoretical user interface design for rich Internet applications hadn’t gotten my attention before. I like to think I track the Flex world pretty closely and I totally missed her. I’d imagine others have also. I think part of the problem is that we’re still thinking about RIAs and Flex on a development level. This talk at Delve completely up-leveled the conversation for me and got me thinking about the wider world of user interface design and how we, as Flex developers, should be thinking about it.

I’m not smart enough to dive into this myself but I want to point out some of her great resources that I think all Flex and RIA developers should look at and take to heart.

  • 12 Standard Screen Patterns – A great list of standard UI patterns that you can leverage in your Flex applications. She literally has 100 examples of RIAs that use these patterns.
  • 30 Essential Controls – A list and examples of 30 controls/components that she thinks are critical for RIA user interface design. It includes a check list of major RIA frameworks to see which frameworks have which controls. Flex component developers, this is a great place to start if you’re looking to sell/create custom controls in Flex.
  • 6 Tips for a Great Flex UX – a six part series with some great tips and getting started links for Flex RIAs.
  • Slides from Theresa’s talk at DelveUI – I’m sorry you couldn’t be there, but I encourage you to grab her slides and walk through them.

What made me so impressed after hearing her speak and reading through her blog was how Flex-saavy she was while coming from a completely different background than most of the Flex community. Having people like this thinking about Flex and where it fits makes me feel very happy and hopeful for the future of Flex as an RIA technology. We need so much more of this kind of conversation within our community; I see this as the next level. Beyond the prefix debate, beyond the ActionScript debate, beyond the spark/halo debate – this is the stuff that will ultimately help people create world class applications that change how people work with information.

Photo from oddsock.