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?

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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.

The Web Way vs the Wave Way vs the Flash Collaboration Services Way

afcs_logoAnil Dash has a post worth reading up on his blog that talks about the “Web Way” versus the “Wave Way” and why Google Wave won’t succeed because it doesn’t really fit the same pattern of successful web technologies. He makes 4 general points to define the “Web Way”:

  • Upgrades to the web are incremental. Instead of requiring a complete overhaul of your technical infrastructure, or radical changes to existing behaviors, the web tech that wins is usually the sort of thing that can be adopted piecemeal, integrated as needed or as a normal part of updating one’s websites or applications.
  • Understanding new tech needs to be a weekend-sized problem. For a lot of web developers, long before they start integrating a new protocol or platform into their work, they hack together a rough demo over a long weekend to make sure they truly grasp how it works. And a weekend-scale implementation on a personal site usually translates roughly into a 90-day implementation cycle in a business context, which is a reasonably approachable project size. (In tech, three days in personal effort often translates to three months of corporate effort.)
  • There has to be value before everybody has upgraded. This is basically a corollary to Metcalfe’s Law. While we know networks increase in value as they add more nodes, the nature of web tech is that, in order to be worthwhile, it has to provide value even if the people on the other end haven’t upgraded their software or web browsers or clients or servers. Otherwise you’re shouting into an empty room.
  • You have to be able to understand and explain it. Duh.

The entire post goes on to explain details of where Wave fits and where Wave fails. But as I read it I couldn’t help see it as a ringing endorsement of Flash and especially Adobe Flash Collaboration Services (AFCS). Before I dive in, I understand that Anil’s “The Web Way” has an inherent requirement that everything be “open”. Flash and Flash Collaboration Services probably won’t fit in most people’s definition of “open” as it relates to the web. In this case, I think that’s part of the benefit. One thing Anil does is looks at Wave from the developer perspective and he provides a list of technologies required to use Google Wave and add real-time collaboration to your web application:

  • Federation (XMPP)
  • The robot protocol (JSONRPC)
  • The gadget API (OpenSocial)
  • The wave embed API (Javascript)
  • The client-server protocol (As defined by GWT)

That’s a lot of stuff for a developer to know and understand if they want to start building something that interoperates with and leverages the technology behind Google Wave. Now think about a Flash developer who wants to add real-time collaboration to their web application. They’ve got no real new protocols to learn (RTMP behind the scenes but not necessarily exposed in such a way that developers need to understand it), no new languages to learn, no new client-server protocol, it’s just ActionScript and(/or) Flex, and some new APIs. Then your application is real-time enabled. So lets look at the four “Web Ways” and see how they apply to AFCS.

  • Upgrades to the web are incremental. With the pods and APIs for AFCS, it’s pretty damn easy to just integrate it with your current application. There is no rewriting from scratch and you can literally just add an AFCS component and enable collaboration for your application. As you dig deeper, the service gets more complex and you can do more with it, but to start, it’s dead simple.
  • Understanding new tech needs to be a weekend-sized problem. If you’re a Flash developer already, all you’re learning are a few new APIs. You still have to understand the fundamental issues behind real-time collaboration if you want to create complex components, but you’ve got the core development skills to create those applications so you can focus on learning the theoretical stuff and not the code stuff.
  • There has to be value before everybody has upgraded. This is my favorite, because it’s one of the benefits of Flash. AFCS has 2 versions, a Flash Player 9 version and a Flash Player 10 that adds some more audio support. If you’re targeting Flash Player 9 then 98.8% of the web can see your application and with Flash Player 10 it’s 86.7%. No one has to upgrade anything to see your new real-time enabled application.
  • You have to be able to understand and explain it. With AFCS you can easily add real-time collaboration features like video chat, whiteboarding, and shared data into your Flash-based application. I think that works.

Now again, I understand that openness is a pretty core part of what the web is. But there has always been a trade off between openness and innovation when it comes to the web. And even in cases where “open” can be innovative, like with Google Wave, everyone else has to catch up. With AFCS, even though it may not fit with the wider definition of the “Web Way” you can take advantage of the cutting edge technology that everyone is excited about and ensure that it’s 1) easy to build and 2) easy for your customers and users to view.

Thanks to Sachin for tweeting the link to Anil’s post. I didn’t take the time to read it until I saw he did.

Adobe Wave: Get Visitors To Return To Your Website

wave.jpgAt last year’s MAX conference, a new technology called Adobe Wave was previewed that demonstrated how web content publishers could easily publish notifications to their users’ desktops. Since that demonstration, the Adobe Wave team has been feverishly working on developing both the Adobe AIR powered client that displays the desktop notifications and the hosted service so that a beta version of Wave could be made publicly available. Well, congratulations to the Wave team! The preview technology is now available on Adobe Labs for both end users and content publishers to explore and provide feedback.

For publishers, Adobe Wave can help increase traffic by driving users back to the website using scheduled or real-time notifications. Consumers, of course, have many options to choose from in terms of web content; notifications are one way to encourage users to return back to the publisher’s website to view content or interact with an application. Once a notification appears, clicking on it launches a browser and displays additional information about the alert on the publisher’s website. A REST API enables publishers to reach users on their desktop without requiring the publisher build and maintain their own desktop presence. For consumers, Adobe Wave can help provide near real-time alerts about content they care about. Featured launch partners include Digg, MySpace and Variety with more coming soon.

This is an exciting technology and, to me, is another indicator that the web is increasingly about real-time communication. Be sure to check out the video overviews for both publishers and consumers. Publishers can also sign-up for a publisher account.

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