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Google Bails on Wave

Google is halting development on Wave, its web app for real-time communication.

“We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product,” Google Senior Vice President of Operations Urs Hölzle said on the official Google Blog Wednesday.

The company cites slow user adoption as the reason for its decision. Google will continue to support Wave through the end of the year, at which point the product will be phased out.

Wave debuted in May, 2009 at Google I/O, the company’s yearly developer conference. Developers were excited about Wave — it incorporated several new technologies that simultaneously pushed the boundaries of what was possible in browser-based apps, and tapped into the craze of real-time communication fueled by Twitter and Facebook. You typed something into a Wave, and your collaborators at the other end of the line saw what you were typing almost immediately. Everything was built in JavaScript and HTML5. We were intrigued by its possibilities, and we even proclaimed that Wave could one day replace the e-mail inbox as our primary form of communication.

In the weeks after Wave’s debut, invitations to the beta test were scarce, and the unlucky souls stuck on the outside were clamoring to get in.

But once they started using Wave, most people were confused about how it fit into their lives. Sure, Wave let you collaborate with several people at once on documents, share photos with multiple recipients, and it created a searchable, editable stream of pure information. But there are already a raft of tools to do these things — it’s easy enough to use Google Docs to collaborate on documents, there are plenty of photo sharing services users are already invested in, and the search and chat tools inside Gmail are well above par. Wave just seemed a bit too crowded with information — it was e-mail, chat, media sharing and document editing all rolled into one (admittedly busy) interface — and the fucntionality too redundant.

Hölzle admits Googlers were scratching their heads, too:

We were equally jazzed about Google Wave internally, even though we weren’t quite sure how users would respond to this radically different kind of communication. The use cases we’ve seen show the power of this technology: sharing images and other media in real time; improving spell-checking by understanding not just an individual word, but also the context of each word; and enabling third-party developers to build new tools like consumer gadgets for travel, or robots to check code.

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.

It’s likely that Google will continue to use the technology born in Wave to enhance the products it was intended to replace, like Gmail and Google Docs. Docs already has an excellent real-time backend sharing system that lets you see others’ edits with very low latency, and Gmail continues to show itself as not only a robust web app but a mini app platform, with things like video chat, document editing, Twitter-like status updates and cloud-based storage built in.

Buzz, another product launched at an I/O event, is also a likely home for some of Wave’s technology. The service is in a tight race with Twitter and Facebook to deliver real-time status updates to the masses. Last month, the company opened up its firehose, allowing developers to access shared updates and media as quickly as possible.

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