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(Google) Wave Goodbye

We won’t have Google Wave to kick around any more. The somewhat incomprehensible Web app from Google that allowed live collaborative editing and commenting on documents in a somewhat chronological fashion had a steep learning curve.

Google said in a blog entry that “Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked.” Translation: No one seems to be able to figure out what, if anything, it’s good at.

Wave’s primary problem is that it was a mishmash of too many separate elements crammed into one bulging interface. Was Wave email? Not quite, although it could handle notifications. Was it an annotation system used to mark up documents? Yes, but in an odd way that was hard to follow. Was it a wiki or a simultaneous editor? Yes and no. And so on.

We’ve mocked, critiqued, and explained Google Wave here at TidBITS, where we made a valiant effort to use it as a tool for various projects that had many pieces to track and many participants whose feedback was needed. It never gelled, so we returned to Google Docs and added the use of the Manymoon project-management Web site that lets us track and comment on specific tasks.

TidBITS publisher Adam Engst outlined some of Google Wave’s various faults in “Why Google Wave Needs a Major Overhaul” (11 March 2010). And although he received email from one of the Wave developers asking to discuss the problems further in Wave (a wonderfully apt summary of much that was wrong with Google Wave), no further contact was made.

A tool we adored, that had a few of the features of Google Wave and Google Docs, was EtherPad. EtherPad enabled simultaneous collaborative editing via a Web app, avoiding some of the problems we encountered with a more fully featured desktop program, SubEthaEdit. (I wrote about EtherPad first in “EtherPad Brings Simultaneous Writing to the Web,” 16 February 2009.)

Unfortunately, just as we were getting used to EtherPad as a routine tool for writing up news conferences and other joint projects, Google purchased AppJet, the firm that developed EtherPad, and quickly shut down the capability to create public shared documents. The company quickly backpedaled and ultimately allowed the release of EtherPad’s source code under an open-source license. (See “EtherPad Open-Sourced after Google Acquisition,” 4 December 2009.) That has resulted in the creation of The EtherPad Foundation, which lists a number of sites that provide public EtherPad access.

From the ashes of EtherPad (and Google Wave), however, rose the phoenix of live editing in Google Docs. That transition hasn’t been without its rough spots, though as a Web app, Google has been able to address troubles in the revised Google Docs behind the scenes and without the fanfare of a normal software release.

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