A Few Thoughts on the Demise of Google Wave

As you may know, my Ball State colleague Paul Gestwicki and I have been hard at work the last 7–8 months experimenting with Google Wave as a way to explore and visualize student knowledge work. And as you also may know, Google recently decided to end the Wave experiment as we've known it, moving some of its key ideas and features to other Google products.

Given that Paul and I recently published a short proceedings paper discussing our work with Wave, have a forthcoming book chapter that also considers Wave as a potential platform for visualizing collaboration, and have secured $25,000 in funding from two different grant opportunities (an internal $10,000 Emerging Media Innovation Grant, and an external $15,000 Indiana Space Grant Consortium award), you might assume that we were especially troubled by Google's decision.

On the contrary, it really doesn't matter much.

A day after learning of Google's plans for Wave, Paul and I met and realized that the death of Wave meant little to the conceptual and theoretical direction of our work.

Like Zachry, Hart-Davidson, and Spinuzzi (multiple citations—see the ACM SIGDOC Proceedings from 2006–2009), we're simply interested in visualizing knowledge work, whatever form that may take, across whatever applications might be used to produce that work.

From an application development perspective, it's true that we (and when I say "we," I mean "Paul") have lost some time. Working with the Wave API, the Google Data API, and creating a robot that interoperated with Wave took time and energy. But thankfully, we weren't all that far along in terms of investment with the Wave platform and the robustness of our prototype.

Instead, we're much further along in conceptualizing the development of whatever it is we create—in other words, we know much better how we'll visualize knowledge work by focusing on what to trace, how to trace it, and how to create visualizations that are useful to collaborators.

And even more good news? We made the decision, just a day or so after the announced death of Wave, to work with Google Docs in order to continue what we've started. That decision, not even a month on, is already seeming like a good move.

So, am I a little disappointed by the decision? Absolutely. But I feel much much worse for the folks who had invested so much more in Wave than we have to this point. We liked Wave because it afforded robust opportunities for multimedia student interaction. But really, we were always focused on visualizing the writing work that surrounded and enabled Wave's rich affordances. That perspective will only be reinforced as we move toward developing a visualization application that works with Google Docs, a platform we're quite confident isn't going anywhere any time soon...

Did I get caught up in the hype surrounding Wave's launch? I sure did. And I was dead wrong about the long-term viability of Wave-as-platform (not necessarily as an assemblage of technologies, however; an important distinction). But, I'm wrong about a lot of things.

I'm on to something with this, however: our contemporary production technologies allow us to surface and trace complex collaborative writing work in new and interesting ways.

Paul and I continue to work hard at visualizing that writing, and generating grounded, useful, and testable insights into what such visualizations can do for student knowledge workers, collaboration, and formative assessment.


Noah said...

I was figuring this would be the case. While you have mentioned "Wave" specifically a lot in the past, the abstract concepts you are researching can be applied much more generally. I'm looking forward to see what you come up with.

If you recall, I was almost awestruck when I'd heard you were actively using Wave for collaboration, and that you were doing it with ease; without forcing yourself to use it. I personally found the user experience to be unwieldy, but I could just as easily place the blame on the (lack of) quality of the content generated by my own nerdy peers who may tend to be a bit clumsy, gossipy or downright conceited when it comes to communication and collaboration.

Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks for your comments, Noah.

It's true—I found Wave to be quite useful for collaborative work, usually in small teams (i.e., in pairs or groups of three). Paul and I used Wave to share ideas, store documents, and write much of the prose that comprised our four grant proposals and two publications. Christa Teston and I used it to similar effect on several projects.

But alas, it was perhaps too big and clumsy for its own good, and it's clear that we were in the (very small) minority, while most folks found it as you've described.

But as you say, the death of Wave has little to no impact on what we're after!

Unknown said...

Hi Brian (came via the indefatigable James Schirmer); My team and I were in the position of those you felt worse for--we'd spent four months developing a game-based Latin curriculum that was supposed to run on Wave. We've scrambled to move to phpBB, Wordpress, and Google Docs.

I think we were in a worse position than you were, but I agree completely that it's the conceptual part of Wave that made the difference: having seen what was possible in Wave we know how to design for those other platforms to make our curriculum work. Thanks for a great post!

Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks for stopping by, Roger!

I'm so sorry to hear about how Google's decision has impacted you and your colleagues. Paul and I were at I/O in May, and we met with several entrepreneurs who had invested considerable amounts of time and money in developing applications for the Wave platform.

This move has left lots of folks scrambling, for sure. But it's heartening to hear how you've focused on what you could bring out of Wave as you continue your work.

I suppose that's all we can do!

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